To be snared in the social services system is ‘punishment by process’ in a machine that quit working long before the crush of the pandemic. Being a client usually means you are old, disabled, or chronically poor. God help you if all three.
I’ve been devoting some energy to assisting a couple of women who had been members of Oakland Women’s Center. Georgia (not her real name) used to weigh over 300 pounds. A stomach-stapling procedure has been instrumental in losing about 200 pounds, all the while producing various bleeding and pain that put her in the hospital more than a dozen times.
She’s been homeless, surrounded by abusive men and women, druggies and 5150s.
She’s living temporarily in a strange half-way hotel where stuff gets stolen, and people die in their beds. After many years of grief-filled homelessness, she is ready for – working for – placement in low-income housing. The paperwork is onerous and threatening in tone. She needs it to work out. Desperately.
And then there’s Tina (not her real name), a professional caregiver whose previous work environments generated enough stress to put her in the hospital with a stroke on Christmas Eve two years ago. She lost 80% of her vision. Since then she has been homeless periodically and on SSDI. She is not eligible for food stamps. By the end of each month, she struggles through a ‘hunger week’ when there’s nothing left to buy food before the next benefit arrives. She wants to work, but first she has to learn how to live blind. Training for admission to blind school delivered her an instructor who verbally abued her for not being quick on the keyboard. She freely admits that she’s not computer fluent; being blind makes another mountain to climb.
Medicare has not been helpful in providing info about local health care providers. Tina must take a number of meds which are not covered. Recently, her Direct Express card (into which her monthly benefit are transferred), was charged for a set of meds. Alarmed, she called Direct Express to stop the charge. They cancelled her card and sent a new one – to a post office box in a town where’ she’s never lived and at a charge of $13.50 (a couple days food if she’s lucky). Her benefits come at the beginning of the month. Until the second new card arrives (in 3-10 business days) she has no cash. Nada.
I’ve wondered if some people just draw bad luck. But then I realized that these women share a certain vulnerability. Their common denominator is poverty. And most government benefits enforce that poverty. Solutions? Is anyone looking at how to revamp the complex maze of ‘entitlements.’ The fate of the poor remains invisible until we reset the way they are ‘helped.’