Housing Insecure, Experiencing Homelessness or Couch Surfing or Car Living or Shelter Hopping

Whatever you want to call it, there are entirely too many folks without stable, affordable and safe housing. If you feel obliged, please donate some money to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, a policy group doing amazing work to support housing justice for all. If you meet someone on your daily commute or you find out someone you know is experiencing homelessness, do you feel prepared to offer anything other than a kind word, prayer or a warm meal or maybe even a few bucks?

In my years of advocacy, I have found myself asking specific questions to folks I meet who are experiencing housing insecurity or homelessness.

Housing Insecure

What’s “housing insecure”? Why would someone say that person is “experiencing homelessness” rather than just saying that person is homeless. Because, we all had a meeting and decided that a person is not their housing status. Kidding, we didn’t have an actual meeting, not that I am aware of. It seems to me that over time, folks who recognized that words matter began to work against using certain words about a particular status; that is a deliberate choice was made to be thoughtful around specific and defining terms. The argument can be extended to a person with a limited income. If someone is said to be poor, there is a tone, a judgement attached to that, but if you separate the person from the income or the perceived or actual lack of income, and just say that person has low income, it can speak to a more inclusive world or policy position, or one might hope.

A friend or neighbor without a home

I digress. What’s a person to do, when you find a friend, neighbor or stranger you encounter along the way, in a housing crisis? While this post cannot and should not considered legal advice, and as a caveat, resources vary wildly from state to state and from geographic region to region for sure, we can still look at several factors that may play into different resources that someone might tap into while experiencing a housing crisis.

Does this person have a disability (diagnosed or otherwise)?

If the person acknowledges a disability or a mental illness, there may be services and supports associated with the diagnosis or for people living with disabilities in your community, state or national level.

Is this person a veteran (or a dependent of a veteran)?

Did this person serve in combat? Was this person impacted by an injury or incident that took place during their military service? Did this person experience trauma at the hand of a racist or sexist person in authority over them? Did this person survive a military sexual assault? Has this person applied for or been approved or denied for VA benefits, health care or resources?

Is this person a survivor of domestic or family violence or human trafficking?

Did this person leave or escape a partner, spouse, family member or friend where they were the subject of emotional, verbal, physical violence or abuse? Was this person trafficked or brought to this country under false pretenses such as promised work?

Is this person 60 or older?

Has this person been taken advantage of or discriminated against as an older person?

Is this person impacted from a recent lay off, reduction in work hours or job loss?

Was this person illegally locked out or evicted from their home or apartment?

Does your friend identify as a person of marginalized sexual orientation or gender identity?

Is your friend Black, Indigenous or a Person of Color (BIPOC)?

My first suggestion would be to develop a rapport, if this person trusts you enough to answer some or all of these questions, you can direct them to groups or resources within your community that may serve these targeted populations. One thing to avoid is speaking or communicating without respect, on your time and not their time and without developing a level of trust that will warrant honest answers.

If you share with someone that you wish to help them, first ask them if they want help. If a person experiencing homelessness is not ready to leave the street or shelter, then a blanket, or umbrella or a dollar may be all they want to and are able to accept at that time.

If you are able to offer any help, I suggest doing so only after asking for and obtaining trust and permission / consent to help.

Something like: “Would you be willing to talk with me to discuss some possible resources or opportunities?” or “If I ask you a few questions, I might learn something about you that will help me better help you, would that be okay?”

If the person is willing to move forward you can assure them that you want to help them and that some of the questions you may ask them are private but could reveal important things about them that may make them eligible for help.

If they provide consent and you find they connect with one or more of the targeted groups referenced above, it gives you details to hone in on when you contact local resources and providers to apply for services. Often time local, state and national housing or crisis resources are targeted to specific vulnerable populations, so finding your friend connects to a targeted population may be the key to housing security or resources.

For example, “Hi, I am calling with my friend Suzy, she is a veteran of the Army, she experienced military sexual trauma, in service, she is a survivor of domestic violence which she recently fled and is experiencing food insecurity and is also experiencing homelessness.”

This information you learn helps you prepare to either reach out to a local or national Domestic Violence group, women veteran group, veteran group, sexual assault survivor group or perhaps a combination of these groups. If this person has no income, perhaps a call to a legal aid group or reaching out to one of the disability groups listed below may be helpful to assist this person in applying for disability benefits from the Social Security Administration, either based on their work history, their inability to find or maintain work due to an actual, or perceived, permanent disability, or the work history of their spouse or parents.

Or another example:

“Hi there, I am calling with my friend Juan, he was recently laid off and is living in his car with his two children, they are in crisis after their landlord kicked them out for being two months behind on rent. They need food and housing resources and the kids need health screenings. Juan needs resources to get back to work.”

Who will you call?

Perhaps, start with a reputable state agency you know that you can trust, but if you do not know one, you can always begin with 211.org or http://www.benefitscheckup.org, details belows.
(Some cities also have non-emergency municipal services available at 311 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/3-1-1#Open_311.)

What to expect?

Calling or reaching out to any one of these groups will involve waiting for folks to return a call so you and your friend can be put in touch with the right person.

Helping your friend may include using your privilege to translate your friend’s needs and situation into “magic language” that providers or government or non profits speak or understand. Please make sure to explain this to your friend, as in, “If you agree, I plan to share details about your trauma which you shared with me, so we can access some resources you may be eligible for.” If the person is not willing or is unable to share the trauma they revealed to you, then you need to acknowledge and respect that boundary and can agree to move forward only using and identifying with groups they agree to identify with.

Expect delays, and anticipate additional referrals. Ask questions, take notes about who you speak to, and if at all possible, find and connect with a social worker! Social workers make our world go around, so I always ask and suggest to individuals they should consider whether they are willing to or are already working with a social worker, whether they have in the past or are willing to work with one again now. I always explain that a social worker navigates resources for a living and many times they can help plug you into what you need, but again, you will need to have your friend agree to this suggestion before asking for help from a social worker, otherwise the resources a social worker provides may be seen as tainted or untrustworthy by your friend.

Is your friend in need of a shower, a change of clothes or medical care?

This may be the most immediate thing that needs to be mentioned when communicating with the first level of intake with 211 or 311 services. Ask whether there is a county or city safe space which staffs a drop in shelter for homeless individuals.

If your friend has had a bad experience with the government, a shelter, a social worker, a mental health or case worker, take note of this and acknowledge that every single area of the community has bad apples and that we are going to work toward finding someone who respects and cares for them and will support them in achieving housing security and stability. This will again require consent.

This might look like: “It sounds like your last social worker did not listen to you and your goals and I can imagine that was really frustrating. I have heard that social workers can really advance a person’s goal of finding housing, would you be willing to work with a social worker again, to see if there may be a better fit this time?”

If your friend agrees, then you can try to find a local community group with toileting resources, housing case workers or social workers where your friend might do a drop in for a shower or a change of clothes and a meal.

Almost all housing services and long term services will require a call back number because you will find, especially during a global pandemic, looking for services will involve leaving messages and waiting for a call back. This means it is really important to communicate with your friend that this will not be resolved immediately, despite the urgency of their need.

What if your friend does not have a phone?

If you feel comfortable, you can offer to receive the first few call backs for your friend or you can be clear in leaving your message, “Suzy parks in the Safeway parking lot at the corner of Main Street and Hill Avenue on Tuesdays and Thursdays and despite not having a phone, she is willing to engage with a person who can help her receive supports and services. Please approach with caution and make sure your outreach worker has their badge when they reach out to her.”

You may also check out whether this person can access a free government cell phone with Assurance Wireless, details below.

Assurance Wireless is a worry-free way to stay connected with family, school services, doctors, and employers. Assurance Wireless provides a free smartphone, along with free phone service each month to low-income residents in over 40 states. Low-cost plans with more minutes and data are also available as well as low international rates to over 200 countries. There are no bills, long-term contracts, or activation fees. 

Assurance Wireless is a federal Lifeline Assistance program. Lifeline is a government benefit program supported by the federal Universal Service Fund. Enrollment is available to individuals who qualify based on federal or state-specific eligibility criteria. You may qualify if you participate in certain public assistance programs, like Medicaid or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). You can also qualify based on your household income. You must provide proof of program participation or proof of income. To see if you qualify for Assurance Wireless please visit our how to qualify page.

What if my friend does not have a ‘valid’ immigration status or is known to be undocumented?

Proceed with caution in accessing federal resources, but many local resources need no immigration information for eligibility purposes. There are below some resources for folks without documented immigration protections including a FAQ section of a website developed by undocumented individuals :

The National Immigrant Legal Center has a host of online resources for immigrants.


These resources above and below are not meant to be exhaustive and the questions I suggested and insights I have provided are simply ideas to consider. Please note this is not meant to be a step by step guide to serving people in need of housing or experiencing any type of crisis. I recently discussed housing insecurity with a friend and it prompted me to put a few ideas down for them to consider and I hope this is helpful.

Every person and family experiencing a housing crisis or experiencing homelessness has a story to tell and a different and unique set of circumstances which brought them to that place where you find them. Meeting that person where they are, treating them with respect, dignity and laying a foundation to develop trust and rapport sets you up to be in a position where you may be able to provide some support.

If this person trusts you enough to open up, please do not set them up for failure by committing to more than you can actually and will actually do. I suggest offering small goals and commitments, one at a time, so you can deliver and then decide what, new or next level or type of help you may offer. This way your friend can develop trust and expectations that you deliver and are worthy of being trusted.

If you find this post and these resources helpful, or if you have a suggestion about something I (very likely) missed, please leave a comment and this post may be edited later.

All my best,

Waiting For Lefty Initially published: August 18, 2020

Don’t Forget your Librarian!

Many libraries across the nation have hired social workers and support workers to assist people experiencing homelessness in finding and accessing local resources.


Catholic Charities

Catholics and non religious or non Catholics alike can apply for and receive help from Catholic Charities which has decades of experience working with and supporting immigrant communities across the nation.



Human Rights Campaign

Our goal at the Human Rights Campaign is to ensure that every LGBTQ person is free to live their life openly, with their equal rights ensured. We know that goal requires that we keep educating, supporting and inspiring ourselves and each other. In the spirit of that continual growth, we’ve compiled information and advice on a range of topics, including resources from the HRC Foundation.



Dial 2-1-1 to access a free and confidential referral service. You’ll find programs that can assist with housing, access to health care, food, and other services.

Domestic Violence

National Domestic Violence Hotline

Call the National Domestic Violence Hotline, 1-800-799-7233, to speak with an advocate about your situation. You’ll find confidential crisis intervention, safety planning, information and referrals to agencies in your area. (If you think your computer use may be monitored, use a public computer to access this site.)

Homelessness and Housing Assistance

Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Housing Assistance

If you are experiencing or at risk of homelessness, use the HUD list of resources and services. You’ll find a directory of shelters, helplines, and information on how to contact housing counselors. Learn how to obtain emergency assistance, food assistance, and other services.

HUD State Information

Search for HUD homelessness resources in your state.

Suicide Prevention

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

If you or someone you know is suicidal or in emotional distress, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Trained crisis workers are available to talk 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. They can provide crisis counseling and mental health referrals. Your confidential and toll-free call goes to the nearest crisis center in the lifeline national network.

Supplemental Security Income/Social Security Disability Insurance (SSI/SSDI) Assistance

SSI/SSDI Outreach, Access, and Recovery (SOAR)

The SAMHSA SOAR program provides SSI/SSDI application assistance to people who are experiencing or at risk of homelessness, mental illness, medical impairment, or co-occurring substance use disorder.

Social Security Representative Payment Program

If you are a beneficiary who needs assistance managing your benefits, contact the Social Security Representative Payment Program for financial management services.


National Call Center for Homeless Vets

Call the National Call Center for Homeless Vets, 1-877-4AID VET (877-424-3838), for free and confidential information about homeless prevention programs and mental health services.

National Resource Directory

If you are a wounded warrior, service member, or veteran experiencing homelessness, use the National Resource Directory to find assistance with housing, employment, access to healthcare, and other services in your state.

Veterans Crisis Line

Call the Veterans Crisis Line, 1-800-273-8255, and press 1 to talk to a Department of Veterans Affairs responder, or send a text message to 838255. Services are confidential and are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Thanks to the SAMHSA website, last updated 4/15/2020 for the above resources:

https://www.samhsa.gov/homelessness-programs-resources/grant-programs-services/path-program/immediate-assistanceLast Updated

Last Updated: 04/15/2020

The below resources I pulled together by pulling information from websites and organizations I understand to be reputable.

The National Council on Aging maintains the Benefits Check Up website, which allows folks to enter their information to find out what resources they may be eligible for locally.


Locally, you can call an Legal Services Corporation (www.lsc.gov) funded or otherwise funded Non-Profit civil Legal aid group for a free conversation about benefits and resources your friend may be eligible to apply to receive.

Elder Hotline for Senior victims of financial fraud


LGTBQ Elder Resource Hotline


National website for Area Agencies on Aging, local one stop shops for food, social services and resources




National Human Trafficking Hotline


Call 1-888-373-7888 ( TTY: 711)|*Text 233733 |Live Chat

National Domestic Violence Hotline


1-800-787-3224 (TTY)

Domestic Violence National Organizations

1 is 2 many
Launched by Vice President Joe Biden, this initiative uses technology and outreach to spread knowledge about dating violence and sexual assault among teens and young adults.

A project of the National Domestic Violence Hotline and Break the Cycle, loveisrespect is the ultimate resource for advice and info on healthy dating. Its mission is to empower youth and young adults to prevent and end abusive relationships. Peer advocates can be reached 24/7 via phone, online chat, or text (“loveis” to 22522).

National Runaway Safeline
If you’re thinking about leaving home, or you have and are seeking information and help, the Safeline is one of the top resources for runaway, homeless, and at-risk youth and their families.

Northwest Network
NW Network was founded by and for LGBTQ survivors and is focused on safety, support and empowerment.

That’s Not Cool
“Where do you draw your digital line?” Teens can learn about dating abuse and online safety through videos, games, and downloads they can share with friends.

A Thin Line
A Thin Line is an MTV campaign created to empower teens to identify, respond to, and stop the spread of digital abuse.

Trevor Project
Trevor Project is the national crisis lifeline for LGBTQ teens and adults. They have suicide prevention services for youth in digital spaces, counseling via IM, and a large online social network for LGBTQ people.

Inclusive, comprehensive, supportive sexuality and relationships information for teens and emerging adults.



VA Accredited Veteran Service Organizations

Seriously though, WTF is next?

Anyone remember the time white Europeans revolted and disenfranchised an entire continent of native indigenous brown people in the process? Or stop me if you remember the one about white Europeans enslaving black folks and bringing them to another land to help build up a nation “under God”? What about the time the USA interned Japanese Americans? Experimented on service members of color? Deported native-born Mexican Americans to a country they had never before visited? 3/5’s of a person?

Come on, America has not always been great or safe for native people of color or their descendants or trafficked or enslaved people of color or their descendants. ‘Making America Safe Again’ or ‘Making America Great Again’ does NOT work for people of color.  It hasn’t been safe to drive while black, walk while black, sit in your living room while black, walk while brown, shop while brown, pray while black or seek asylum or refuge while brown or black. We can now sadly say it is unsafe to watch the Astros while brown.

What we need is an end to white supremacy and the normalizing of domestic terrorism while the racist in the White House spews defenseless hate speech intended to fan the flames of hate and engage his base toward ensuring his reelection bid and making America white.

How many times do we have to tell you ‘America’? Fighting words and white supremacy beget violence in a way that we refuse to accept as normal or inevitable.

Hate speech is not protected speech, please spread the word on that one, America! Fighting words are not protected speech, again, pass it on, por favor.

As a native Tejana/Chicana/Mexican American/Latina, my roots run deep in Texas, way before Texas was the good ole US of A. I also fight daily as a lawyer for vulnerable populations, including seniors, veterans, and traditionally disenfranchised folks in need of access to justice.

It breaks my heart that a friend of mine, a fellow Latina lawyer, was harassed at Minute Maid Park in Houston, Texas, my old stomping grounds on August 3, 2019. My friend G. Huerta* and her brown colleagues were called monkeys and told to go home to their country in Houston, Texas—while attempting to enjoy an Astros game.

Mere hours before the tragic and preventable terrorist attack in El Paso, Texas and then later the tragic and preventable loss of life in Dayton, Ohio.

El Paso. Then Dayton. Every day my heart breaks a little more. Again and Again and Again and Again. These incidents of harassment may seem like a turn the other cheek moment but they perpetuate the dehumanization of people of color and this is more than dangerous.  It has seemingly been happening most of my adult life.  It makes me wonder what, if anything I can do.  Some days I am afraid to get on the train.  Other times on the street, I wonder what I would do.  When I leave the parking lot of the mall, I think, I made it.  If someone bumps me at Costco, I wonder if they were mad that the aisles were full, or if they were upset about all the people of color?

After 9/11 I knew our world would never be the same. That same week, while in college, I remember working the front desk of the dorm I lived and worked in I(as a Resident Advisor) at the University of Houston. I knew it would impact brown men and people who look or worship differently than white folks.  I feared the worst and wrote about in for a sociology paper and shortly thereafter became more involved in acting on my principles. I protested the invasion of Iraq.

I stood on street corners with signs and prayers and chants.  I protested in the streets of Houston.  Purple triangles on backpacks represented the people our government disappeared in its wrong attempts at ‘finding and punishing’ the culprits. I canvassed for working people and unions in Ohio and in support of undocumented workers seeking labor protections.  I fought for clean water in Texas and our nation. I marched against the KKK, and later worked with undocumented immigrant children who came to the United States seeking asylum and refuge, largely due to the policies our nation put in place in Mexico through violent force or financial pressures and political influence.

I went to law school with the hope of making a difference.  Student loan monsters keep me up at night, so does the 10th of the month, when rent is ‘due’. But after law school, I was blessed to fight for affordable housing and just federal and state housing policy. It  helped me deal with what Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Ike did to brown and black and poor people.

I organized and recruited pro bono partners and provided direct legal services for low income Texas Veterans and then veterans and people of color and seniors seeking income and health security as they age in their communities. I woke up in tears that November morning, wondering what I could have done differently.  I hugged my friends and colleagues as we prayed and hoped that it would not end up as bad as we feared it would be. Inside I knew it might be worse.

I sat paralyzed by increased depression and anxiety as white supremacists walked with greater security in spewing hate and committing even more hate crimes against Jews and black people and brown people across this ‘great nation’. I found myself at the Dulles Airport with friends and colleagues hoping to feel something. I was paralyzed again when folks started putting kids in cages at a higher rate and denying even the chance to seek asylum or refuge in this ‘great nation’. I feel fortunate to have been able to use theatre to deal with some of this heart break and helplessness.  I had been off of social media mostly after 45 came into office, because it was too hard.  And here I am back again, not knowing what comes next. What can we do to work toward change, against more violence and hatred. We know what should be done, but what can be done? What comes next? We get to decide together.

*friend’s name changed for this post

Let’s do it.

I was leaving work yesterday after a long day at the office doing the advocacy that makes my days so fulfilling.  But sometimes, that same job and the task of seeing the world harshly impacting vulnerable people, that does not end when the 5:00 whistle blows.

It was pouring down, cats and dogs as they say. As I waited for the crossing signal, I spotted one of the gentlemen who often asks for change near my office. In his wheelchair, he was pushing himself across the street toward the signal, with his combined upper body strength and his sheer will pushing him ahead, he also somehow managed to keep hold of a large cup of change. His disabling condition, I imagined, along with the downpour of rain, were holding him back. It took me a second before I decided to and asked if I could help push him through the light. He did not hesitate before he accepted.

I held on to my umbrella and adjusted it out to cover us both and I did my best as I pushed his chair with one hand. We made it across the street but not before exchanging some chitchat.  “It’s ugly out here tonight.” I recall saying. “It sure is.” he replied before continuing on with something else. I think he was talking about needing or getting new shoes, but I missed what he said because by that point we had made it across the street and we had managed up the ramp. He looked up and thanked me, but not before the cup slipped from his grasp and change was everywhere. I kneeled to collect the pennies and the dimes. And as I handed him the cup, and each piece of change, the rain kept coming down and I remember thinking that this scenario was all too much.

At the moment when I handed him the last bit of change for his cup, I was completely overwhelmed. When I was ready to leave, I patted him on the shoulder, I didn’t know  what, if anything, that pat was meant for or what compelled me to do so. I think now, looking back, I  hope it helped him somehow understand that I cared about him, that I wished him well.

As I  made my way toward my train, my eyes began to well up and my mind was wandering; I remember thinking, he is a child of God.

There are many marginalized individuals, vulnerable people, persons with disabilities, people experiencing homelessness in a variety of ways, couch surfers, refugees, people living with mental illness or addiction, internally displaced citizens-folks here in the United States and  folks across this globe, people are all struggling in their own way.

And yes my heart was heavy last night thinking about my friend and his change, the wheel chair he was sitting in all soaking wet and whether he had anywhere warm to go.

I wish that I could have done more for him and yet I am grateful for the chance that I had to serve him in even this, the smallest of ways. We can’t do everything, but we can each do one thing.

What’s going on?

We listen to the stories every day on the radio, in the news, we read the blogs, newspapers and magazines.  And yet we turn to our friends and colleagues, loved ones and lovers, shaking our heads. What is it that has driven our Nation to this point? Every voice cries out that this day in our Nation’s history is one not to be taken lightly.

Children and seniors, mothers and daughters, veterans and teachers in Michigan cannot drink water without fearing the ongoing and already devastating affects of being poisoned by the drink of life, today and always. Water, they cannot drink water.

There is ongoing gun violence in this Nation like no other.  Gun violence in this Nation is literally like no other.  Our mothers and daughters, sons and neighbors continue to be victimized and to die in vain. And we still, as a Nation, refuse to acknowledge that a “Constitutional” right to bear arms is less valuable than the right to live free of fear from senseless and tragic violence.

And much of this violence disproportionately affects people of color, the brown and black folks, wrongly pulled over, or verbally or physically abused, killed, by people in authority who have gone too far.

Our Muslim brothers and sisters are wrongly profiled as well and bear the brunt of the fear running through our Nation which refuses to be quieted through communication and discourse.

A man who wants to lead this Nation of ours, claims that all Mexicans are drug dealers and rapists; he refuses to disavow support from leaders of the KKK, one of the ugliest terrorist groups this Nation has ever seen and screams about building walls, reducing access to healthcare for people with low income and shakes his fist at every nation of the globe who dares to act in any way contrary to his ignorant rants.

This ignorant hate speech and these ramblings have actually drawn people–our neighbors and friends some of them I imagine,  from the rural and urban nooks and crannies of our country, folks from small towns and big cities alike have voted for hatred.

People, I ask you, what’s going on?

Yesterday I met with a disabled client who is so disabled that he chose not to sit down in my office during the entire meeting. He was afraid that he might not be able to get back up. That was really hard for me to handle, to continue to do what I needed to do, all the while wanting to cry for him. I see a lot of vulnerable people but this angered me and hurt me to see, because I knew his appointment in my office was one based purely on government error which had caused him grave and serious consequences that are life-altering.

I met with him to discuss his Medicaid, including his Medicaid covered home health care benefits.  Medicaid provides this low income senior a personal care aide who can assist him in maneuvering in and out of the hospital bed in his apartment which he spends much of his day in.  These Medicaid home health care and other services keep him from living in a nursing home isolated from his friends, family and community that he loves. When he is seated, he has to keep one foot elevated for most of the day due to a medical condition which causes him greater pain otherwise.

He continues to be eligible for Medicaid but his coverage lapsed two months ago due to an administrative error.  Due to this government error and negligence, he is now without access to medical treatment, for example he has been denied physical therapy and medical appointments that are critical to his continued health. He found his way to our office after a referral from a dedicated community social worker.  This client is a victim of government inefficiencies brought on by, among other things, in my opinion, the WAR ON POVERTY in this country. 

The War on Poverty, I mean to say, the WAR ON POOR PEOPLE.  Programs that support and serve the most vulnerable among us are constantly under attack and they leave people like my client at risk for less opportunities to live healthy and fulfilling lives.  My client has never not been eligible for Medicaid these last few months.  He in fact continues to be physically and financially eligible for Medicaid.  And because he is a senior, his Medicaid coverage helps pay costs (like co-pays and monthly premiums) for health care services paid for by Medicare.

The problem with my client is purely technical on paper: his Medicaid was not timely “recertified” so the coverage ended.  But it doesn’t feel technical to him. It feels devastating.

He complied with the government requirement to submit his Medicaid recertification paperwork. The government agency has however not processed it timely, so the coverage lapses in a computer somewhere in oblivion and the results in reality are devastating.

An inadequate number of government staff to READ, PROCESS and APPROVE Medicaid cases affects people in real time. When you think about government spending and reducing waste, yes there is always room for improvement, there is always room for more efficiencies, but don’t forget about the seniors and the single moms, the children without food or medicine or medical treatment.

These are our friends, neighbors, retired teachers living on limited retirements, the elderly veteran living on nominal amount of VA benefits, the survivor of domestic violence and her children, these are the folks who are affected like no other when budget crunches and funding cuts cause critical government services to be cut in half.

This is not a post about how government workers do not care to do the right thing.  It’s not about that.  It’s about an inadequate number of people dedicated to do those things that we consider absolutely critical to keeping the myth alive that this is the greatest Nation on Earth.  I mean, that’s what they say, and in so many ways it is.  But oh people, “you have some explaining to do”.

What’s going on?




As a legal aid and poverty advocate, I help people who are often underrepresented and marginalized. And YES, I personally struggle with acknowledging that the situation(s) I find myself in, in my personal life, can never compare to those daily struggles that my clients deal with. And YET, student loan monsters keep me up at night. And YES, the world we live in sometimes seems incredibly scary, because as we all know, sometimes really bad things happen.    And YET, I recently took a part time job at a retail store in order to keep up with my own financial obligations. And YES, family members encourage me to find a job that could put me in a better financial situation.  And YES, sometimes I dream..not about a fancy new car or even a nicer wardrobe, but about going a day without a creditor calling to remind me that I am behind on some bill or financial obligation.

And YET, I am privileged to represent the 96 year old client that is having her home health care services terminated by a Medicaid provider because she was approved for a GREATER amount of services.  My vulnerable client was approved to receive 24 hours of personal care services (nursing home level of care covered by Medicaid) in her home. When the provider learned her services were approved for an increase from 16 hours to 24, they decided to terminate her because they do not want to serve her over night. This violates a lot of laws and is just plain wrong.  It is my joy to help her and her family.  What an honor to be her advocate!

And YES, I am excited to report that a client who had been wrongly denied Medicaid, three times, was approved two days before Christmas this year thanks to our advocacy.  This client receives Medicaid thanks to health care expansion under the Affordable Care Act.  Too bad the government decided that Medicaid applications are now two bifurcated applications.  Traditionally, and until very recently, a Medicaid beneficiary could submit one application to apply for Medicaid and they would be considered under all eligibility categories.  Unfortunately for our vulnerable client with chronic breathing difficulties, her traditional Medicaid application was denied three times and the client was never advised about the ‘other’ Medicaid application through the Health Care Exchange portal.  We helped her submit the new application, but here–she was without Medicaid for six months, received three notices from the government which did not provide her adequate notice of her appeal rights or the process for obtaining Medicaid through this ‘expanded’ eligibility category.  Without our help, the client would not have had access to support and representation as her claim was reviewed.  She cried joyfully the last time we were in court and the government brought us a copy of the approval notice.  “What a Christmas miracle for me, I’m gonna call my doctor today for an appointment!” she cried.

AND YES, last week I received an email from a veteran client.  His application for VA benefits that we submitted in August, was approved!  That’s record processing time for the VA and for our client, with absolutely no current income and he was thrilled to have a check in the mail from the VA for $1,000 right before Christmas.  AND YES, it was more money than I had in my bank account, but I cried for joy for him.  This disabled veteran, with a history of homelessness, struggles with a number of disabling medical conditions.  For his benefits to be approved just in time for Christmas, meant so much to my client and to my colleagues and me.  That income will literally change his life. AND YES, that’s my 9 to 5.  Pretty cool, way to make a living, right?

AND YET, it’s too bad my credit card was declined when I tried to buy a burger at Five Guys last week; that was a humiliating and humbling scenario a few days before payday. AND YES, I realize there are grave and serious things going on every day in all corners of this world in big cities and small.  There is an absolutely unacceptable amount of aggression and violence and injustice perpetuated disproportionately against people of color and women. There are discriminatory decisions made everyday that prevent people living with disabilities and the elderly from equal access to opportunities for all sorts of things, including aging in place or entertainment or other services. Crimes against women and children and sectarian violence against indigenous people or religious or ethnic minorities across the world and in our streets, rightly keep us up at night and our prayers duly focused on global issues.

AND YET, we MUST pray for and WORK toward peace in whatsoever capacity that we can.  I have always said, IF we are a people of faith, we must be people of action.  I will say it again.  If we are people of faith, then we must be a people of action.

So people, I pray and hope and trust that the small struggles I deal with in my life can bring me closer in solidarity to the people amongst us who need even greater help.  The situations that I see every day in my client’s cases and in the stories they tell and written on their faces, I do my best to find a legal or advocacy remedy that I can work toward.  And YES, I do my BEST to then lift up those concerns and I TRY to let them go when I leave the office.  Just like the stories of racial profiling and world conflict that I hear about on NPR and Pacifica Radio, I listen, I lift up and I do my best to educate others.

BUT THEN, I try to find an uplifting or joyful piece of music, or a good cup of coffee, or the smile of a friend’s baby, or something that I can truly be thankful for, like a call to your mother or your favorite poem.  I try to find peace in my day, as best as I can, because otherwise, they win.




I’ve got a new attitude

This is supposed to be about sharing the stories of the low income, vulnerable and elderly clients whom I serve on a daily basis.  This is supposed to be about the days when I cannot bear to leave the office because I have so many client cases to tend to.  She told me “!Gracias, que Dios me la bendiga!” (“Thank you and may God bless you!”)  This after not having had regular use of gas to cook and heat her home for nearly two weeks, despite our advocacy and assistance.  But she thanks me anyway because that is who she is.  He emails me incessantly about his sister’s Social Security case.  And as frustrating as it is, I know they are desperately in need of her income.  She has not had any for nearly a year, before reaching out to us.  And today I met another client, this one with a monthly income of $400.00 from Social Security, desperately seeking any boost in income or resources that he may be eligible for after a lifetime of working in this country, he is entitled to this meager retirement based on a lifetime of working low paying jobs.  Despite this incredibly low income, this proud man, recently naturalized as a PROUD United State citizen, sends money to his country of birth, each month to his disabled wife who is too sick to travel and cannot afford medical care.  He came to our office seeking an increase in his income so that he can afford to send more money to his disabled wife.  I shake my head as I even bear to write these things.

My student loan monsters are keeping me up at night again. And the articles that I link to below are not helping.  Comparing a lawyer to her homeless clients and calling her better off, does not help.  I understand that there is no set of circumstances that could put me in a position in greater need than the needs of my clients.  I understand there are human rights violations taking place across the globe and in our backyard in our Nation’s own courtrooms, grocery aisles, schools and parks, civil and human rights are denied on a regular and unfortunate basis.  And yet, we must do a better job here of conquering the law school loan debacle and the current law school financing method.

Student loan debt forces poverty lawyers and advocates into jobs that are not why they went to law school.  So many people, especially minorities including women and people of color, people living with disabilities, people from diverse and rural backgrounds, so many people went to law school to bridge that justice gap.  We want low income and older people as well as people traditionally underrepresented in society to have their voices heard.  We know the value of letting the voiceless finally be heard. And yet, despite my parents having grown up in American poverty and being very, very proud of what I do, I hear them constantly encouraging me to move forward to a job that pays a better wage for me.

I practice law in a meaningful way that allows me to represent vulnerable clients who are often in crises.  This job is tasking, trying, challenging, overwhelming and exhausting.  And it is rewarding, filled with joy and the only thing that I can think could make me proud to call myself an attorney.  But too many lawyers like me are enticed away from the work we chose to do, work that motivates and infuriates us at the same time, because the loans we accepted in exchange for the tools to practice are so high that we cannot live comfortably within the demands of this job on the salaries we take and given the obligations we have at this stage in our lives.

Many of my peers and friends are in similar boats. First in your family to go to college.  Or first in your family to go to law school. Only lawyer in the family. Only person in your family to ever leave your home state.  These circumstances, among others, placed us perhaps at a disadvantage when we took our undergraduate educations on or when we embarked on the exciting adventure that is preparation for the Law school admittance exam (LSAT). Some of us worked while we were in law school or were on food stamps and Medicaid while in law school.  And yet, we finished.  We passed our bar exams.  We ‘made it’.  Now we want to and look forward to and feel compelled to serve our communities by representing clients who are in dire circumstances that require the help of an attorney just like us.  Someone who knows where they are coming from.  Someone who can advise them with sincerity, represent them with integrity and treat them with respect.

Now I just wish we could figure out a way to ensure top notch legal education for folks who like me, may have worked several jobs during college and while preparing for the LSAT and who may not have been accepted to traditional schools or awarded the best scholarship. Folks like me, want to help those clients who remind us of our grandmother who lives in public housing who cannot read or write or our parents who grew up standing in line for the one Salvation Army toy at Christmas, our teachers and leaders who marched in the Civil Rights movement or our Aunt who burned her bra for women’s rights or our friend who protested the KKK or our family members who proudly served our country.  We all want to do our part to make our loved ones proud and to serve our community and those folks traditionally without a voice–we want to help them be heard, we just need some help along the way.

What do we want?????  

A revolution in the way we finance education in this country.  

When do we want it? NOW!!!!!



Prosperity and Blessings

How many days do you honestly wake up thinking just how abundantly blessed you are? I am asking myself that very question as I realize that I have not posted on this blog in over a year.  This realization concerns me because the intent of this blog was to help me reflect on my daily experiences advocating for people with limited financial means.  This blog is supposed to help me better become an advocate for myself too; I am working on helping myself so I can better help others and working on serving others so that I may better focus on myself.

Returning to the question, how often do any of us wake up recognizing just how truly prosperous we are?  I am not just speaking of financial prosperity, but prosperity in all its forms. Health, Wealth and Love–these are forms of prosperity, and they are all relative to each person’s state, we define our successes differently–as we should.

First of all, you woke up.  Many of our loved ones, brothers and sisters have fallen asleep and were called home, you were not.  Most of you likely awoke from a sleep, while in a bed.  Far too many human beings sleep on streets, in alleys, in cars and shelters. They long for the bed that you chose not to make this morning as you ran for coffee.  Next, you may have showered, while water ran down the drain and you lathered your body, did you think of those without access to safe and clean water?  Many folks in countries across this world, villages and towns are without access to safe, clean drinking water–let alone water to waste on bathing.  This happens in the US of A, sometimes too, just look at the human rights violations that were taking place as Detroit tried to punish its residents for years of the city mishandling its own government and its water problems.  Later, you may have made a light breakfast, I for one, had a bagel and an apple, while I comfortably drank my coffee and listened to music–mentally preparing for the day.

You may have got in your car, or on the bus or train and went about your daily commute to the office, to the restaurant, to the refinery, to the classroom or the garden.  You might have even grumbled about the traffic, the commuters, the hustle and bustle.  But you made it to your place of employment, because fortunately, you have a place of employment. Once you arrived you were ready to do an honest day’s work–for what we should all hope is an honest day’s pay.

I for one, know that it is easy for me to become absorbed in details…details that when I stop to reflect on them, appear trivial and yet, in the regular course of the day, when these things come across my screen, my day, my mind–they consume me, undeservedly so.

And yet.  It is a new day, a new day, a new day.  Many of my clients are fighting to keep their homes, or better yet to keep the electricity on in their homes. Some of my clients do not have electricity in their homes right now, and use candles for light and blankets to keep warm.  We are trying to resolve those issues.  One of my homeless clients, without income, wakes up every morning and makes himself busy in the community–because the shelter he lives in does not allow ‘day dwelling’.

I am working to better recognize my abundant blessings; these blessings allow me to serve those who are without or who have less.  I know we are all in a position to serve others, we just have to recognize, the tools, the gifts and yes the blessings we have been given, have acquired and developed–and then we have to keep our eyes open long enough to see where the needs exist and where we can best serve others in the community we call home.

This one is for you…

He served our country bravely.  At one time he played piano with the best of them but his body is failing him now. He had lived a good life, despite the fact that 14 years ago he was diagnosed with a disease that caused his body to betray him.  He had trouble with all kinds of mobility, but his mind was as sharp as a tac and he was a fighter.  He kept active by reading and staying up to date on all of the news and politics that he could tolerate. And he had his routines.  Watching the squirrels in the trees outside of his window, and with the help of his home health aid, he loved to walk around in his life-long neighborhood, shopping trips and visting with his friends and neighbors.

When he contacted us it was after the local government decided to reduce his home health services from 24 hours a day to 16 hours a day.  This reduction would have been devastating-it would have likely caused him to head to a nursing home because of all of his needs.  Luckily, he found us and we were able to request a hearing in time to keep his much-needed benefits in tact.  I worked with him almost completely by phone, because travel was very difficult for him.  A colleague of mine met with him in person while I spoke with him by phone.  I agreed to represent him in this wrongful reduction of his benefits.

He was the type of client that makes our jobs easier.  Not that the difficult ones are not as equally deserving of access to justice.  He just cooperated so much that it made my work on his case so much easier.  He was always alert and almost always able to answer questions related to his needs and our case strategy.  The issues were clear, there was no reason his benefits should be reduced, because he was still medically and financially eligible for them.

The government however was hell bent on dragging the case out and for five months we prepared for a hearing all the while, he remained in the comfort of his home-unless his medical conditions caused him to spend a night in the emergency room.

My client was nearly totally reliant on his home health worker.  When I finally had the chance to visit with him in his home to prepare fully for the upcoming hearing, I was overwhelmed.  His physical limitations were so obvious to me–how could the government call into question his needs?  It was difficult for me to not cry as I saw him struggle to hold his head up.  I saw the way his aid followed him on every move.  I knew after an hour that he was too tired to continue, so we had to wrap up quickly.  I know at the end of our meeting, his catheter bag had to be changed so I had to rush out of there.

I began to take his case personal, as I know I should not.  But I did.  I fought hard for him and leading up to the hearing, I prepared the law, the facts, the entire case–it was going to be a full proof case!

For the first day of the hearing he actively participated. He took notes, despite the fact that at times he could barely read his own writing, he was able to point things out to me that the government relied on that were incorrect.  He was inspiring.  We took breaks often during the hearing because he was easily tired and because he needed the rest.

There was so much to present in his case that had to continue the case for a few weeks to conclude the testimony. And when the news came that he was in the emergency room the day after the hearing, I felt it.  The guilt.  Did I push him too hard when we decided to go until 5:00?  What if I had advised him against participating in the hearing, would he have not been in the ER?  Several weeks passed and as my colleagues and I prepared for the final day of testimony, it didn’t look good. I represented him at the last day of the hearing and he died three days later.

It was hard to come to terms with losing someone you intensely fought for but barely knew.  He was kind. He was courageous.  He was a fighter.  And because of our help, he had his benefits for the last six months of his life –that’s something right?

But it still stings, when I think about what it would have been like to get the W for him. How happy he would have been knowing that he was going to be able to remain in his home without fear of losing his benefits.  How great it would have been to show the jerk lawyer from the government what the truth was all about. What is right, is right.

None of that, instead it is over.  I had hoped to get a court order ensuring that his benefits were protected.  Instead, God had other plans and called him home.  He is finally at peace. I bet he doesn’t need any help walking around.

!Oh no they didn’t–Utility Scam Alert–Cuidado/Be Careful!

They lied to her to gain her trust.  Spoke to her in her native language; shared their love of their home country with her, all the while scamming my sweet client into switching utility providers.  They said they were with the local utility company. They showed her a valid looking identification card that seemed to indicate they were telling the truth.  And they promised her discounts on utilities that would make anyone jump on board.  In reality, they used her utility account number to switch her to another provider–and in the months that followed she saw bills that were more than triple what she had previously been paying.

She came to me for help with what we call a public benefit check.  She had recently become disabled, was no longer able to do her past work and had exhausted her vacation pay.  She was anxiously awaiting Social Security Disability benefits and had come to my office for help.  We conduct public benefit checks often in the legal services industry, to review what public benefits, if any, that a client may qualify for so that we can help them apply; these benefits often make the difference between getting by and living

During this routine check, I discovered she was not paying utility bills to her local provider alone, instead she had been inadvertently enrolled in a separate public utility provider, who she was ‘contracting’ with for the ‘services’.  This is all a part of the overall utility ‘deregulation’ effects.  Folks say the deregulation of the energy market provides choice for consumers.  But in my mind and experience, it undermines the utilities we all rely upon. To me, deregulation of the energy market tears away at community connectedness. With all of this “choice”, we are left with so much confusion about which ‘service provider’ is legitimate, trustworthy and ultimately accountable to the public it is ‘tasked’ with serving. Hence, scams like the one that happened to my client can take years for government agencies to investigate.  All the while, a ‘licensed and regulated’ energy ‘provider’ is not only defrauding countless people across the nation but is also engaging in anti-competitive and illegal scams to ‘compete’ with the public utility provider.

In my client’s case, she had been fraudulently enrolled as a customer of the company we will call “No Stars Energy”.  No Stars Energy knocked at her door, speaking her native language, Spanish.  The representative from No Stars Energy told my client a lie about a utility discount program that the public utility company was getting the word out about.  My client then showed her bill so that the representative could ‘explain’ how much she could potentially save.  Although my client saw a slight decrease for one month, it was in the months that followed that she noticed her bill would eventually triple.  She did not understand that the electricity she consumed was being billed to her at more than triple the rate that the public utility charged; she did not even know that she had switched companies.

When we  discovered what happened, I advised her of her rights.  I agreed to help her file complaints with the local attorney general, public utility commission and the Federal Trade Commission. She will file a police report and we have decided to reach out to the media.  These complaints cannot correct the sense of humiliation and loss and the anger that she feels over having been lied to and taken advantage of.  Not to mention the bills she over paid for several months, which we are looking into. 

When we spoke to the representative from the public utility company, my client asked again and again–“how can they show the ID of your company, how can they lie to me and so many others and get away with it?”.  It was sad to see how much it affected her.  In the end, it has really affected me too.  This type of targeted scam is so unsettling.  These are tough economic times.  So many low-income and vulnerable people, especially seniors are at risk for this type of exploitation.  It is even more upsetting because it seems at this time, we should be counting on our friends and neighbors, now more than ever.

Utility providers rarely provide discounts and rarely make unsolicited house calls. Contact your city’s 311 or municipal offices to ask about legitimate and local government assistance for utility costs, if you are in need of assistance with utilities.  Your valid utility provider will rarely, if ever, contact you at home to discuss this type of help.

 If you have a question or concern about something like this, call your utility provider or the police.  Watch out, everyone. Guard your utility account numbers in the same way that you would guard your social security number, because in this day and age, it only takes an account number for this type of fraud to take place.