January 28, 2008

the rant

Posted in Frustrations at 12: 11 pm by MK

I spent my morning at the Dept. of Social Services attempting to help A. & K. apply for public assistance.  A. earns $9 an hour. K. doesn’t work and they have 3 children. A family in this situation does not qualify for public assistance.

I’m frustrated on a number of levels. Here they are:

1.  System failure. A. & K. are currently spending about $300 a month to heat their apartment. As they receive food stamps, they should have automatically been enrolled in the county’s Home Energy Assistance Program (HEAP). This never happened.

2. Affordable housing. The federal refugee office (USCRI) set up A. & K. in an apartment that costs $800 a month, not including utilities.  There is a refugee grant that covers housing expenses for the first 6 months in the country. After that, it is expected that refugees become employed and pay all of their own bills. At $9 an hour, $800 a month in rent is not feasible. It’s ridiculous actually. They need to move into public housing. And at this point, I’m trying to find out about emergency public housing. But what frustrates me (beyond the obvious need for more low-income housing) is the fact that USCRI put this family in an apartment they clearly would not be able to afford after 6 months! Where is their relationship with the local housing authority?

3. IOM Loan. In order for A. & K. to travel to the U.S. from their Thailand refugee camp they were given a loan from the International Office of Migration (this is standard for all refugees). This no interest loan totals about $3,500. The current monthly payment is $96.

4. A’s frustration.  When A. & K. made the decision to come to the U.S. (they had other countries to choose from) they were told that as political refugees they would be well care for. Right now A. just wants a job that provides him the means to support his family. We’re talking basic needs here, okay? Food, housing, clothing, shoes. The basics. It seems as if they have come upon every possible road block so far. At this point, A. thinks that perhaps they should have stayed in Thailand. Life in America is far from what he was told it would be.

5.  English lessons. Where are they? I think A. attends one class per week, but is that really enough? And what about K.? Just because she is a woman and the primary caregiver English lessons are not an option for her? What services take into account that many Burmese refugee women cannot attend English classes because they do not have childcare?

Why do people become homeless? No, it’s not because they spent their money on a large screen TV or internet access as some ridiculous blogger wrote about today (that’s another story…).  People become homeless because they do not have the means to pay their bills keep a roof over their heads and food on the table.  Minimum wage doesn’t cut it. A country without universal health care doesn’t cut it.  An employer that says, “sure we offer health care, but yeah it’s probably too expensive for our employees to afford” doesn’t cut it.

And it sucks to know they only way out is to work within the system.