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20 February 2015

No one's listening anyway

I'm carrying around a lot of bad feelings about transitional housing, and I'm trying to let them go-- it's in the past, there's nothing I can do to change what happened, all of the normal things you tell yourself when you're trying to move past something bad that happened already. I have plenty of practice, both with bad things happening and moving past them, but that doesn't make it any easier. I want to solve the problem, change something so it doesn't happen again, fix the issue. How can it be that I started out sleeping in my car in a parking lot, and ended up sleeping in the same parking lot a year and a half later after being in the program that was supposed to help stabilize my life?

Part of the problem was that while in transitional housing, I stood up for myself when they were trying to feed me bullshit. They (meaning Porchlight, and the VA homeless program) are not used to veterans standing up for themselves, or so it seems-- whenever I did they took it personally, they acted threatened-- like, how dare you not just lay down and do what we tell you? We have a plan for dealing with broken people and you're not following it. Hate to break it to you, world of social work, all people are not the same, All veterans certainly are not the same. Your program wasn't what I needed and when you tried to shoehorn me into it, it didn't work. You're not the first to try treating me like I was everyone else, you probably won't be the last. It never works. 

Of course, if Porchlight and the VA hadn't been stepping on my rights as an individual by violating my privacy and ignoring the conditions of my disability, things would have gone a lot smoother. I wouldn't have had to talk to the VA Patient Advocate, and then the staff at Porchlight wouldn't have had to take it personally when I did.

Do I regret talking to the VA Patient Advocate? No. 

Do I regret tearing up the VA Homeless Program Manager's business card, and throwing it in the trash as I walked out of her office? No again.

Do I regret writing my Senator about the situation when Porchlight was blacklisting me while I was trying to find a place to live on my own? No again.

See a pattern here?

What I do regret-- and this is the reason that I'm having trouble letting go of the whole experience-- is that I cannot change it for other veterans. I know that I'm not the only one that's been fucked over by Porchlight. I know I'm not the only one that's had trouble with the Madison WI VA Homeless Program office.

So many veterans commit suicide every day that it's not headline news when it happens. It's a statistic. I'm lucky-- I'd already had a lot of therapy, and I was already on medication, and I'd most importantly learned a lot about being resilient before I ever became homeless. (That it didn't prevent me from becoming homeless in the first place is a subject for another discussion.) 

Someday, or maybe it's already happened, a veteran is going to end up in VA transitional housing-- a veteran like me, who doesn't take kindly to being stepped on-- and that veteran is going to see the situation as hopeless. They're going to look forward, and see a life of case managers who promise the world but don't really care. They're going to see that "charities" like Porchlight are nothing more than real estate companies getting rich collecting money from the government. They're going to see a life of being a slave to the system, and they're going to decide that suicide is the only way out of it.

When-- not if, but when it happens to someone in Porchlight's program, it's on the people who run the program. The case managers, the peer support specialists, the housing managers. It's also on the VA, the homeless program managers and the patient advocates who say they'll support veterans and then fail to step up and do what's necessary.

I can't change the system on my own. I'll tell my story to anyone who will listen, but I've been telling my story to anyone who will listen for a while now and nothing has changed. I have a life to live, so I'm putting the whole thing behind me-- or at least, I'm trying to put it behind me-- and so I'm done with it.

I'm sorry, fellow veterans. I tried. I have to move on.





09 February 2015

Thanks, Porchlight Inc of Madison WI

I've spent the past couple of hours (!) walking down memory lane-- the VA has an online portal where I can download my medical records, which includes the notes from all of my medical and psychiatric appointments. The portal also includes the notes entered by the social work person who manages the veterans homeless program in Madison, and the times I talked to the patient advocate's office about the problems I had while living at Porchlight. Her view of the situation was that everything was my doing, that I failed to participate properly in the program, and that I was just there for a free bed and a free meal.

Of course. It had to be that, because that explains why I kept working at my job, and put so much energy into taking online classes for no credit to get prepared to go back to college. It explains why I went back to college, both to better myself and to learn what I need to get a job so I can support myself. It explains why, instead of doing any one of a number of other things, I decided to stay in Madison and keep fighting to make my life a better one. Freeloaders-- people who just want to suck on the government's teat-- they do that kind of thing, you know. They strive to improve themselves, they work hard, they get up and dust themselves off and try again (and again) when they fail. They stand up for themselves, too. That's what I am, one of those no good freeloading people.

Thanks for explaining that.

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I'm working with a new Vet Center person; she's helping me to work through some of the problems I'm having just getting through normal life things like getting bills paid and college related paperwork done, and especially things like rescheduling appointments. My brain's going so fast with all of the normal stuff, plus I'm having trouble still dealing with everything that happened with Porchlight. I had an appointment in December that I missed to do all of this, and I missed it because it was at 0930 on a morning after I'd been at work until after 0100. It's also at a satellite clinic that's about 30 minutes away by bus, and honestly I'm not that anxious to talk about diabetes and medication and all that. So I missed the appointment, and now I can't take any of my medications because I get nauseous soon after I take them-- so Vet Center person helped me by calling and getting a new appointment set up.

I stopped taking my meds-- all of them, psych drugs too-- when I started throwing them up on a regular basis. So I need to talk to my psychiatrist about the psych drugs, but she's on maternity leave. Vet Center person called to make an appointment about that too, but on the phone I got quickly triggered and didn't want to deal with it. Before making the phone calls, Vet Center person hit me with some bad news.

There's this thing called the Wisconsin GI Bill. If you entered active duty in Wisconsin and saw combat, you get to go to any state school in Wisconsin and the state picks up your tuition. It's an awesome program, but as of January 2014 it doesn't cover your tuition if your GPA is under 2.0, which mine is, considering that I failed both of my classes when I was evicted from Porchlight. I was on academic probation anyway (from 2011) when I returned-- but if I'd have done well in spring 2014, I would have been off probation by now.

No Wisconsin GI bill money for 2014 means I'm getting the bill, and it's several thousand dollars that I don't have. I'm in classes this semester, but I can't pay the tuition bill. I managed to stay in my classes this semester, but I can't register for summer or fall classes at UW, and that means that I can't bring my grade point average up at UW by taking more classes at UW (even if I did get good grade). Unless, of course, I want to take on additional student loan debt, on which I'm already defaulted so I don't know if that's even an option.

I can go back to Madison Area Technical College and take classes, and if I take the right classes the credits will count towards my bachelor's degree at UW. The kick is that UW doesn't transfer in grades, so I can ace classes from now until Judgement Day at MATC and it won't help me boost my UW GPA.

Essentially, after this semester, if I can't find a way to either take out more student loans or get a shitload of scholarships and grants, my academic career at UW is over. If I want to finish my bachelor's degree I will need to transfer to another school, and if things really do reach that point I don't have an answer for what I'll do next.

I have to be honest, things haven't gone so well for me at Wisconsin.If I transfer somewhere else (hello California!) I'll still have to find a way to pay for it, and out of state tuition will be crazy-- but it doesn't do me much good to just take random classes at MATC if I'm never going to be able to add them up to a bachelor's degree.

UW won't release my transcript if my tuition bill isn't paid, so there's that, too.

So, yes, I bailed in the middle of the phone call to the psych team at the VA hospital and just said "Fuck it, call me later and we'll set something up." Vet Center person: "You got really triggered all of sudden, what's up with that?"

Oh nothing, it's just that the very thing that kept me going through two years of being homeless, part of that time sleeping either in or outside of the very building I'm trying to earn a degree in-- the dream, finishing my comp sci degree and graduating from Wisconsin -- that dream is now essentially over.

Thanks, Porchlight.

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You could ask, as my Vet Center person did, why I'm so quick to bring up and blame Porchlight in all of this-- in response I'll ask "are you new here?" Homeless Program Manager could have looked into the situation when I moved out, and discovered that for the months rent didn't get paid, there was a form with my signature authorizing Porchlight to take rent money from my account every month. Case Manager neglected to take it over to the main office two blocks away, even though she's there several times a week. Porchlight Accounting took out too much money once the withdrawals started, which overdrew my account-- nothing ever was done about that.

Porchlight didn't have to call the Sheriff's Office and have a deputy visit me with a summons to vacate the premises. They could have said, "Hey, what's up with the check? We know you're getting your first Social Security Disability Payment, so we know you have the money and we don't want you back out on the street." 

No one-- not VA Homeless Program Manager, not Case Manager-- ever did anything to support my being back in college. The only time anyone ever asked about college was when Porchlight tried to claim that since I was getting money for school (I wasn't, I was getting (or at least supposed to be getting) tuition remission), Porchlight considered it income and subject to 30% being taken out to pay rent. That's what they Porchlight cared about, and VA Homeless Program Manager and Case Manager did nothing to change that.

Porchlight wasn't concerned about my well being, or finding permanent housing. No one followed up when I left Porchlight. No one cared to even make a simple phone call to see if I was okay. Instead they put a sign on the door with a policy that made sure I wouldn't ever come back looking for help.

Once I found an apartment-- on my own, by the way-- no one from the VA cared to follow up to see how I'm doing in my own place. During the entire time I was at Porchlight they wanted to run and control my life, and in VA Homeless Program Manager's final report about me she says so-- if I'd given them control of my money, none of this would have happened. Yet once I found my own place, suddenly I was 100% fine even though I'm still at risk for homelessness and still have PTSD (in fact, worse now than it was before Porchlight). If I become homeless again in 2015 I'll be considered chronically homeless. What if that happens?

VA Homeless Program Manager also mentions that I left my room without cleaning, and left stuff behind when I moved out of Porchlight. Of course I did-- a Dane County Sheriff's Deputy showed up at my door with a summons that was very clear that I was to leave the premises immediately. Had I been a dick about it I'd have been arrested on the spot. The deputy's words: "You don't have to leave right this second, but if Porchlight calls the Sheriff's Office and says they want you out right now we will have to remove you. Physically, if necessary." So yeah, I didn't stick around to clean. What would you have done? Porchlight refunded my security deposit, so my room being dirty wasn't all that big a deal, was it? (Sounds good in the report though. Nice job on that.)

Was it Porchlight's fault that I failed those classes? They'll never say so. It was a challenge for me to pass them anyway, as it is for every class I take-- PTSD makes it hard to be a successful student, which is why this blog is even here. Still, try this. Take having a disability, plus being in an environment that makes your disability harder to deal with, and then try sleeping on the street for the couple of weeks right before (and during!) your final exams. Let me know how that works for you and get back to me.

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You could also ask, "Dude, what's your end game with this stuff about Porchlight?"

Writing about this stuff gets it out of my head, because to write about it I have to think about it, organize it, arrange it. I'm trying to move on from all of this, to begin to recover from recovery. 

Maybe someone will read all of this and get the idea that "Hey, you can't make this shit up. There's gotta be some truth to what this guy is writing about", and maybe they'll tell the right person at the VA and something will get done. Nothing happened when I wrote my senator, maybe someone else will have better luck.

Finally, because my story needs to be written 








26 January 2015

I'm (officially) looking for work

This time of year usually isn't much fun. It's cold out, it's usually gray, it's sometimes icky and even downright miserable some days. Desert Storm also happened this time of year, so there's a lot of "well, on this day in January 1991 I was...". I also didn't have HackTech in Santa Monica CA to attend this year, so there's no me-walking-barefoot-on-the-beach to talk about.

Right now I'm listening to Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, and Stevie Ray V and trying to make some sense of things. I have to work tonight, at the same job I've been doing since 2009. It's a lengthy tenure for a student job, and while I feel good about work being stable through everything else that's gone on, it's time for me to think about doing something else. There's no technical or intellectual challenge any more; I work at an IT help desk, and the more I learn about programming and building software the less working at a help desk seems exciting. I have learned so many things, especially about how people use hardware and software and what happens when things don't work the way people expect them to work. I don't claim to know everything about how humans and computers interact, but the questions I see at work are questions I've seen over and over again. I don't look forward to going to work the same way I used to-- I'd rather be programming, it's what makes me happy, and so it's time to move the fuck on.

One glaring problem stands out, and that's how the hell do I make a programming job work with PTSD? Just like making college work with PTSD, a problem I'm still working on figuring out, there's no man page, no HOWTO. I'm not certain how to approach telling a(n) (potential) employer that I can only work a certain number of hours a week, that there are going to be days sometimes when I'm just not worth a shit, or that as much as I want to be a team player there are going to be days when I really would rather just work and be left alone. I don't know how an employer will react if I'm hired, and then I bring up that oh yeah, I have this disability and I need these accommodations for me to work here, and oh by the way you have to give them to me because of the ADA.

I realize that I may not be giving people enough credit-- that an employer who decides to hire me will already have decided that I'm worth it, be happy to have a veteran working for them, know that disability accommodations are a part of life and so is providing them when needed. This stuff is just new to me, because the last time I started a new job I didn't know I needed accommodations. I hadn't had all of the problems I've had the past two years, that have given me pretty good reason not to trust people who say they are on my side.

So yeah, I have some things I need to get over. I'm workin' on it.

15 January 2015

Phghdht.

I'm back from a week's vacation, visiting a friend from Desert Shield/Desert Storm days. Vacation time gives a person time to rest, to get away from the day-to-day stuff (which I think I have more than my share of), and hopefully some of the fog clears and things make more sense. Right? I don't know. If the fog cleared today I don't know if I'd recognize it, or even know what to do if I did. There is no plan, nothing to follow. I'm making this shit up as I go along. Still, it was nice to get away for a while.

Of course, on the way home I missed the boarding call for my flight to Chicago. Somehow. I was there hours early, I was sitting at the gate, and I was even paying attention. I thought I was, anyway. The flight was delayed by almost two hours, and I heard the periodic announcements about that. The plane left earlier than the delay time, so maybe that's how I missed it? I don't know. My phone buzzed with a text that the plane had left the gate, and there I was wondering WTF had just happened.

I got lucky, in that the flight leaving from the next gate was headed to Chicago in about an hour. I talked to the gate agent once I figured out what had happened, and she was able to get me onto the later flight. (The flight I was supposed to be on, according to the gate agent, would have paged me by name since I was already checked in but not boarded. Never heard that announcement either). Being on the later flight meant that I got into Chicago later, and that meant that I missed the last bus back to Madison, which in turn meant that I spent the night at the Bus/Transit Center (or whatever they call it) at O'Hare waiting for the first morning bus at 0630. Again. I'd planned ahead to not have that happen, but it did anyway. I did manage to buy a round trip bus ticket the week before, so I at least had a definite and paid for ride home, but I still spent the night in Chicago.

Okay, so spending another night at O'Hare wasn't the worst thing that could have happened, but it wasn't much fun, either. I'm far more concerned that I missed the boarding call. I've been flying around to different places since I was eight years old. I'm anal-retentive-with-a-hyphen about plane schedules. I might miss flights, but I never miss shit like boarding calls at the gate.

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It hasn't helped, in general, that the anti-diabetes medication I'm on makes me nauseous. I spent part of my vacation standing outside throwing up off the back porch, until I finally gave in and stopped taking the pills.They might help lower my high blood sugar, but if I can't keep any food down that's not especially healthy either. I know the answer to diabetes, it's proper diet and exercise. I haven't had an excess of either since returning to school, so that's a problem that remains unsolved.

I missed my last set of doctor's appointments, where Doc is supposed to review my meds and do blood work and all of that. I need to reschedule them, but I feel almost as equally as sick when it comes to calling to set up appointments as when I take the pills. I'm afraid they're going to say "Suck it, the pills are your only option, take them or die". My Doc is also at the satellite clinic, which isn't all that easy to reach by bus (and more so when it's zero or below outside). I need to try to get moved back to the main hospital, again, where it's easy to get bus transport there and back.

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I was supposed to be going to a hackathon in Michigan this weekend, and I assumed wrongly that the hackathon would send a bus to Wisconsin to pick me (and everyone else who is going) up. We're not back in classes yet, so I might have been the only one (or one of a very few) and so they didn't send a bus this way. I'm disappointed, because I wanted to go. I always learn a ton of new stuff at hackathons, and I really enjoy going. Not this time, though. I suppose that a weekend of no sleep, coding, and chugging Red Bull might not have been the healthiest thing, but it would have been fun.

I am also one of a group of people organizing a hackathon for later this spring, in April. I'm far more a hacker than an organizer-- it's much easier to work with a chunk of code than to organize people and logistics. Code either works, and you are happy, or it doesn't work, and you are not happy and so you must debug (which is not an altogether bad kind of not happy). Right now I'm just tired, because I was up all last night hacking. Code never blames. It's you and the computer. You typed in the code that doesn't work, but the computer doesn't do anything terrible if your code fails. The computer doesn't care that you didn't do whatever you didn't do, or that you made a logic error. You (I) can wrestle with the code until it works the way I want it to work.

This always comes back to what my Vet Center person thought about my life, that I can (and possibly should) consider myself "retired". Do hackathons for fun, hack personal projects, do school for the sake of learning, and maybe scale things back to where I can manage on my current means. It's not that easy though. I don't know quite what it feels like to just have things "set". Since forever, I've been striving, trying to get to a better place.I don't know what it's like not to be striving, thinking internship and future job, etc. It's hard to relax after you've been homeless and seen and felt what it's like to have the entire world pulled out from under you. It's hard to trust and believe that you have enough of anything, much less that you have enough of everything you need.

That there wasn't a bus coming for me to get to the hackathon in Michigan illustrates my point that hackathons aren't forever. I can sort of make something of starting projects at hackathons, and then spending the time between hackathons finishing those projects and mashing them up into code that actually does something useful. Priorities change, hackathons change, the money that was there to send a bus last semester might not be there this semester. I get accepted to hackathons, but if there's no bus or transportation cost reimbursement, I can't actually attend. I worry that the funding that's enabled me to get to so many cool hackathons will someday (soon) dry up and with it, the part of my life that is attending hackathons.

Yeah, I worry a lot, probably too much.



04 January 2015

More in being an advocate

No, I really don't want to be an advocate for homeless veterans. It would be noble, perhaps, but it would be a waste of time. How can you say that, when you've been a homeless veteran yourself? When you've been a homeless veteran with no one to advocate for you? Who better to be that person than someone that's been there?

I'm not a crusader, going off to battle the forces of evil. I'm just a vet with PTSD trying to figure shit out.

I need to call my landlord to have my drains checked, because the toilet and a couple of my drains are draining slower they should be. Taking to him triggers my PTSD-- I just know it won't be a simple "okay, I'll have someone there tomorrow to look at it" and then a maintenance guy shows up tomorrow and the problem is solved. Add this to the list of very simple things that PTSD makes very difficult. I'm avoiding the probl because I'm afraid of what might happen-- I'm afraid that I'll end up talking to my landlord. How can I be the guy who takes on the system if I can't even call my landlord to get something fixed?

And what if my landlord looks at the rest of my apartment? It's, um, a little disorganized. I'm moving stuff in from my storage unit little by little, and one recent trip involved clothes that were packed by cramming them into suitcases dirty or not. So I've got a lot of dirty clothes scattered around. It's not like I can just shove everything in the bedroom and close the door, because it's a studio apartment. I really really don't want to get a call from my landlord about my place "being messy". My life is messy, get over it. Fix the toilet and leave me alone.

Anything that involves me talking to my landlord is something I want to avoid. Considering my last landlord (Porchlight) who made it a corporate mission to make me homeless again, and my landlord before that who would bang on my door and scream for me to get the fuck out of the building-- plus the current one-- dealing with the landlord isn't easy for me.

So yeah, considering landlords are a big part of the problem of veterans (me especially) being homeless, maybe I'm not the best choice to be the advocate?

I am working on a new letter to my U.S. Senator about my whole experience dealing with Porchlight. I'm also going to pay visits to the Patient Advocate and the Social Work offices at the VA hospital to turn in formal, written complaints about how I was treated by Porchlight and by the VA's own homeless program staff. 

Actually I need to add "how I am still being treated by the VA's homeless program staff", which is "not at all". I'm still at risk for homelessness. One more "time" and I'll meet the HUD definition for "chronically homeless". I'm not on anyone's radar since I found a place to live on my own. I already know that the VA homeless program people here don't have my back. Seems to make send to me though, they they should be doing something to help support those of us who are back in normal housing so we don't backslide. (Help dealing with landlords would be a good start, hint hint).

I'm going to start talking to someone again at the Vet Center, to try to keep working some of these things out. The thing about PTSD is that it never really goes away. Some days are better than others, but it's still always there. I needed a break from "the system" these past few months. I had some things to prove on my own, but mostly I needed to step back from having appointments all the time. Now, yeah, it's time again to pickup and work on things that are giving me trouble. Hopefully I can find a sense of closure with all of this stuff about being homeless, yes make sure it's all documented, and then step back and acknowledge that I did what I could to make things better.

Oh yeah, and call the landlord about the drains. Gotta do that too.