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I worked for the State of Oregon processing medicaid and food stamp applications for a couple of years; that experience left me heartbroken because the most vulnerable people find it very difficult to navigate the system and they live anxious lives, in constant fear of loosing everything they have, partly because of how the system works.

I now work with individual people who don’t have homes, don’t have income, and don’t have the ability to navigate the system without help. I am paid by small nonprofits and even landlords who want to keep vulnerable people from becoming homeless. What you describe is very accurate. I meet a lot of young people who have lost hope. I work with a lot of older women, some who never worked, and will live for the rest of their lives on $750 per month. Those women will be dependent on a wide variety of social programs for the rest of their lives if they want to remain housed, be able to eat and have access to medical care. In my humble opinion a great country offers it’s most vulnerable citizens assistance in such a way that they can live with dignity, without shame or stigma. For all of our largesse, the US does not do a good job of offering assistance in a dignified, effective way.

It has always struck me as particularly frustrating that most programs are limited to picking up the pieces, slowly, one at a time, but only after a person has hit rock bottom. So many people end up homeless, for example, because they could not get help that would have kept them from becoming homeless. Once a person is homeless day to day existence becomes the focus and it’s hard to find time for anything else. Once a person is homeless, or seriously ill accessing services is just another burden and so many service providers to not get that.

What I’ve learned is that there is always a way to get what needs to be done, done, but it requires a lot of patience, a lot of time, the ability to travel to appointments, use of a phone on a regular basis, use of the internet, the ability to read and write well, the ability to ask thorough questions and the ability to put up with unskilled, uninformed, and sometimes angry gatekeepers. It also requires being open to following any and all leads, even if you are convinced it’s a waste of time. I always encourage my clients to apply for everything they are eligible for and if they don’t want to accept that help, later, they can always decline. Many solutions are made up of individual actions and some processes take a very long time. Knowing that getting from point A to point B is going to take time and requires us to make numerous adjustments while pursuing the goal allows my clients to develop system navigation skills that they begin to use in other parts of their lives. I experience such joy when a client transforms from hopeless to skilled and displays genuine pride in themselves and their accomplishments. If I hadn’t witnessed this myself I would hot believe it possible.

In the beginning I accompany my clients to appointments or sit with them while they place phone calls to make sure that we have all the info needed to submit a complete application that meets the exact criteria for each and every program, grant or voucher. I can’t stress enough how important it is to follow the exact instructions given for submitting a request for assistance. Most government assistance is limited to specific groups or types of people based on specific eligibility criteria. People waste a lot of time and energy and then give up because they apply for things they are not eligible for without knowing there were other programs they were eligible for. Most government employees are trained to do one small thing and provide referrals for all other services without really knowing what those services are or who is eligible for them. My clients rely upon the accurate information I provide and the ability I have to interact effectively, getting thorough information from gov’t employees and other gatekeepers. I tend to function more like a second brain, another opinion, or another way of looking at things, as support for the person who is building a sustainable path. This one on one relationship is an excellent vehicle for helping people figure out what they are eligible for and where to begin seeking assistance. Unfortunately most service agencies haven’t created such positions, but that is slowly changing, in some places, as awareness grows.

I don’t know the specifics of your situation. I don’t live in New Jersey. I can’t sit with you or accompany you to an appointment. If I could I’d make that offer, as a skilled professional who is also a friend. I can offer to help you in finding a wide variety of options and then determining which one’s you are eligible for and how to rank them in terms of where to put energy. It’s surprising how many different ways there are to solve problems but it may require cobbling together a lot of different things taking into account what you are uniquely eligible for. I am not working at the moment and have been volunteering at a local micro housing village where people are transitioning from the streets to the rest of their lives. I would love to be able to assist you at this time.