Friday, August 31, 2007

A glimpse

Yesterday I mentioned in the comments that I'd be spending the day tagging along with my friend who is looking for an apartment for her mentally ill, alcoholic, unemployed, impoverished brother-in-law who is being treated for cancer (of the tongue, just to make things worse!). Whew. That's a load o' trouble. Fortunately, as I also mentioned, my friend is experienced in dealing with social services, but even so she was flying blind to some extent, never having done this particular task for him before.

It was, as perhaps only a writer would so cold-bloodedly say, interesting.

We went into four apartment buildings, all of them low-income, subsidized housing. (His total income is about $500 per month; our understanding, possibly faulty, is that they'd take 30% of that, which is really good compared to what he had been paying for years in the building where he had insisted on living before he got cancer.) We drove past four other places, too, but looked over at each other, said, "No way," and kept driving. In those cases, we were turned off either by the disrepair of the building, the crime rate of the neighborhood, or the appearance of the clientele

The four we investigated were nice, to the extent that we could see them. We didn't see any of the actual apartments, but only the lobby areas, because either they were full with no units available to see, or they required an appointment, which my friend hadn't learned from her extensive research on the internet. (I held a lapful of her printouts for all the places she'd selected to check.) The public areas were, in all four cases, clean and neat, inside and out. If there was landscaping, it was attractive; if there was a big lobby area, it looked comfortable and appealing, too, if you don't mind protective vinyl coverings on furniture. At least one of the buildings has a grocery on the premises.

These buildings were all well-located on bus lines. One was a downtown high rise, two were big old converted apartments in mid-town (where he lived previously and was badly beaten up once), and one was a high rise on the edge of town.

We were impressed with the employees. Every one of them was friendly, helpful, and efficient. They were stymied a bit by a new HUD regulation that requires an applicant to fill out the forms on the premises, and won't let you take them away with you to fill out, but we all worked our way around that.

Three of them have waiting lists, one has available units (He won't be ready to leave the nursing home he's in for at least a month, though he *really* wants out now.) The waiting list in one was 3-6 months, but it was clear to us in at least one case that because we look respectable, that could help move him up the list faster. Huh. Wait until they meet him. They're going to be screaming "false advertising."

In other words, because there were two of us--intelligent, fairly well-informed, middle-class women driving around a large area in a nice car, armed with internet research--it went very well. We found places we think he could live. The employees in those places couldn't have been nicer to us, or more helpful.

What if he were on his own? Sick, crazy, smelly, unable to speak (which doesn't keep him from trying). I don't think he'd have had to do it on his own, even then. Because he's in a nursing home, a social worker would have done this legwork. Somehow, he'd have been found a place to live somewhere. But this whole process--starting with his hospitalization and surgery--started because he has a brother and sister who care about him. He's not easy to find when he's on his own. He doesn't communicate well, and doesn't much want to. But his brother managed to track him down, get him in a car, and take him to a doctor, and from there the rest of it has unfolded. On his own, even with a bleeding mouth, I doubt he'd ever have gone for treatment.

The point of all this is not to make judgements about the system, but merely to write an account of some of what it's like out there, in the place where probably most of us have, at one time or another, secretly worried that we'd end up. As my friend said, with a smile, "I used to wonder how I could get one of those shopping carts." And I've had moments when I wondered, "Okay, so how do you actually get to a soup kitchen?" Haven't you had times of financial insecurity when those were your fears, too? In this society, material security is an illusion. For some, the illusion holds; for this man--from an upper-middle-class family, it broke when he broke.

In many ways, for some people, the social service system works okay, all things considered, though it sure helps to still have family who don't give up. And this is no judgment on families who do give up. Nobody knows their particular circumstances. Nobody walks in their shoes. I might give up, too. Most of the time even this man's family has to just let him be. When they can help, they do.

All we did was view that life, in mere glimpses, from the lobby. Even that tiny glimpse was enough to remind me that the only real security any of us have lies in whatever degree of acceptance and peace we feel inside, and in the love of our friends and family, and the good will of strangers.


Nancy P said...

There's plenty of good will around our blog village!

Happy Friday, y'all. May the fates be with you.

Now I'm going to try to get my printer to work with my laptop. Pray for me. :)

Family Man said...

Nancy that's so very touching and you're right, it's friends and family that helps pull us through some hard times. Your friend's b-i-l is exceptionally lucky to have family that cares.

As long as you've got the drivers to load up for your printer you should have no trouble.

Hope you have a good w/e coming up.

Nancy P said...

Happy w/e to you, too, fm!

GreenMinute said...

Just in case anyone is wondering about how to find a soup kitchen:

I volunteer from time to time w/ the Salvation Army. Most communities are large enough to have one. While working at various little duties, I am given one of the daily Red Shield "brown bag lunches." I have rarely been able to eat it all.

Two sandwiches, fruit, a snack, a dessert. Two beverages (one is usually canned soda, the other a boxed orange juics). That's the mimimum.

The S.A. "soup kitchen" here in Asheville is a cafeteria and I have never seen them serve a meal that was actually soup.

They also have an on-site social worker or two at their facilities and are a terrific networking source for anyone who might find themselves in a situation of need.

Here, the S.A. also has a food bank where you can come in and fill a couple bags with take-way food. You wouldn't believe the number of single moms who come by for food.

Grocery stores and chains donate a lot of food. But the S.A. also buys food (usually from the farmers' markets) to make up for any shortages. I have driven a cargo truck to the local farmer's market and loaded quite a bit of fresh vegetables, etc. for the cafeteria, that the S.A. simply buys. If you wonder where a few dollars donated to charity might be put to community use.

Even a Red Shield thrift shop is a place to start if you need help. The managers are officers in the S.A. and can get someone help, and tell them how to show up at the right place at the right time to be fed.

The thrift stores also clothe the needy for free. This is really important for children. Many, many working single moms and dads cannot afford to feed and clothe their children in this country.

BTW, I never once when distributing food, or just hanging around the cafeteria, noticed anyone "preaching" to anyone about anything. That may be an old-school stereotype that simply no longers exists.

There are also in most communities some outstanding church-based services.

I found a number of people receiving direct aid from the S.A. to be interesting, polite, and chock-full of social skills. They're not people to be afraid of and each is an excellent source for networking when baby really truly does need a pair of shoes.

Anonymous said...

Quiet day in the village. I was a social worker, working with pregnant teens in a rural community for three years. I saw my share of poverty, of dysfunction, of joy and of sorrow. This man is indeed lucky to have someone helping him. And gold stars for you, for going along. It's a lonely, frustrating world sometimes.

Hope your printer is working!

In Florida, trying to find a place to live. A little harder than I anticipated - had a cottage on the beach signed and sealed today, when the owner changed his mind. Now I'm back to square one. Hopefully tomorrow something good will show up. Send positive vibes my way - hard day today.

Hope everyone else had a better one - and happy holiday weekend, everyone!

Family Man said...

Hey Beth I'm sending those vibes and wishing you luck in the house hunting. I think I would have had to let that owner know exactly what I thought if he pulled out after it was signed.

Hope you find a place soon.

Anonymous said...

Hi fam - I would have, if I could have gotten to him. I was working through a realtor. I believe SHE gave him what-for on my behalf, though. It was really disappointing that someone would do that. Anyway, thanks so much for the vibes! I'll keep you all posted.

Nancy P said...

Oh, Beth, how disappointing! It sounds so wonderful, and then to have the Welcome mat pulled out from under you, well, that's what we call a bummer. Beach bummer. I hope tomorrow is better.

You know, there are some mighty big-hearted people who hang around here. I'm glad to know you fm, green, Beth, and the rest of you rascals.

Nancy P said...

New printer works! Thanks for the encouraging vibes. And it only required one trip back to return a part. I got an inexpensive little HP laser writer and it's cute as a bug.

I was so depressed about my writing today, but then I got to have the most wonderful dinner with friends on this lovely evening, and life seems good again.