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17 March 2014

Quiet, and shades

I'm in the computer sciences building. It's spring break here, so by early evening  there are very few people moving around. It's nice to be able to just sit where it's quiet and sort things out. 

I've worried (and written) so much about rent issues, and it's going to take a little time to let that worry go. The issues are settled now, committed to paper. I'll be able to settle myself down once I have my rent account back to normal.

This week I'm forcing myself to take a break and not try to get everything done that needs to be done over the break. I'm over clocked most of the time, so sometimes my system says "enough!" Sometimes I heed the warning, sometimes not. Just for this week, I'm listening and acting accordingly.

My nine weeks of prolonged exposure therapy at the VA ended last week; the idea is that you remember and describe out loud the details of a traumatic event guided by a therapist and record the session. Then you listen to the session every day, and you hear yourself describing what happened and how you felt while you were remembering.

It's tough, but it's a good thing. It's helped quite a bit, even with all of the external stuff that's been going on.

Since I don't have a lab section to go to this week, I'll be free on Wednesday night for the bi-weekly vets house meeting. Which means I have to attend. Ugh. The agenda doesn't change much from one meeting to the next. Like many meetings, it could be summarized on one side of a sheet of paper. We're supposed to interact. Someone usually bitches about something. The house rules get reviewed again. We hear how much better it is here than in any other program. How lucky we are.

No one living in vets house is lucky.

The meetings, I think, do more to remind us that we're homeless than they do anything else. Communication is one way, them to us. I tune out the parts about child support issues, substance abuse, and AA. Lots of guys here have those issues, but thankfully I do not. I have my own issues. 

I still contend that PTSD is not an issue that transitional housing addresses, and it should be. There are lots of guys here besides me dealing with PTSD. 

That being said, I'm not too interested in "the program" any more. It's the same program that could care less if I'm in school. It's also the same program that would have me living on the street again if I hadn't started handing shit back when it looked bogus.

If there's a lesson here, it's that there are times when you can't handle everything on your own. You need help, and sometimes that means giving up some control. (Has being in the program helped me? Of course. Tremendously.) There is a certain point where the program isn't helping any more. Instead it's holding you  back like a ball and chain. 

Eventually all of the therapy and meds and determination get you somewhere, and you can look past the program and see your life outside the fences.

That's the point where the meetings and the ticky tack bullshit rules start to get really annoying. 

I don't want to be in homeless veteran world. I want I be in hacker world and student world, and future is so bright I gotta wear shades world.






13 March 2014

Case Manager #2, you're fired

Tomorrow is Thursday, so I'm supposed to have my weekly meeting with Case Manager. Thus is the same CM that called me a lair yesterday and gave me the talk to the hand treatment. I looked back at my schedule last week, and when I knocked on her door last Thursday, I was actually early-- it was just before my Thursday afternoon class. I had a midterm that night, so I needed time later in the day before taking the exam.

There's a camera that looks down the hall towards CM's office. So I'm on film going to her office, knocking on the door, and leaving a message.

Last Thursday I was facing a midterm, plus a very soon eviction hearing plus another midterm. That's on top of my normal school and work schedule, study time, and all of the normal stuff I have to do every day just to keep going. Oh, and #PTSD, too.

And then you tell me I'm a liar and I was never at your office? 

Excuse me? Did I hear you right?

-----

I'm still obligated to meet with CM every week while I live here. I'll meet the requirements. Look to CM for help? No, not anymore. Yup, things are going fine. Goals? Yeah sure. Kthxbai.

Of course, CM will be "documenting" these events. That's how social work is, right? Document, document, document.

Document this: whatever CM needed to talk to me about, I haven't received an email, phone call, or any other type of communication from CM. Nothing.

Note to social work prifessionals: this is an example of how to completely lose the trust and respect of the people you are trying to help.

When you're sitting around trying to figure out why some homeless people don't want to come in from the street, the way I've been treated here is a good example.





11 March 2014

I'm staying

Tl;dr: didn't get evicted.  I ended up having to pay extra rent in March and April.

Bus to courthouse. Go through security, find the elevator, up to second floor. Lots of signs taped to the wall that say "Go This Way". Find the right courtroom, sit down, wait for a while. There's a mediator, who comes out every couple if minutes looking for someone from Porchlight. I briefly entertain the thought that they won't show up, but then I realize that that won't really help solve anything.

Finally I get called. Housing Manager is already in the mediation room. "How much money do you have for me today?"

The mediator had to remind Housing Manager that the mediator gets to talk first. Mediator explains the process.

"How much money do you have for me today?"

None. Same as sixty seconds ago. I explain that I don't know exactly how much rent I owe, because I've never been given a statement of my account.

Housing Manager produces a complete statement of my rent account from a stack of papers. This is exactly the statement I've asking for the past year or so-- so it seems that their accounting system CAN produce such a statement.

I'm trying to keep bearing, but I can't help pointing out that they'd have saved everyone a lot of grief if I'd had a copy of this statement months ago. Housing Manager's shields go up immediately, "You had a copy of this statement." Total defense mode, exactly like the last time I talked to HM last summer.

No, I did not get a copy of this statement. That's the second time today that a Porchlight employee has called me a liar, and the second time they have been wrong.

I take a deep breath. Then another.
And one more, just in case. I'm fuming.

HM knows I was just awarded disability benefits. She wants to know how much I can pay. I already have a number, and I offer that split over two months. She wants the back benefits that I'll be getting from the time my claim was being processed.

If there was ever any doubt left that all that matters is the rent money, it ended right there.

Honestly, I don't know exactly when that money will arrive and I told her so. I also had to explain that I wasn't going to promise to pay money if I didn't know when that money would be in my account.

Fine, no argument there. 

Mediator fills out a standard you-pay-them agreement form. There are several blank lines under the amounts I am promising to pay, so I draw lines through that space on the form.

The mediator smiles.

There is also a survey form the mediator asks me to fill out-- she's a volunteer from the Tenant Resource Center, and they need some demographics. I know they use these forms to justify the funding they get, so sure. Happy to fill t out.

Housing Manager starts talking to me while I'm filling out the form. Without looking up from the form, I hold up a finger (not that one, but I damn sure considered it) to say shush. I'm not done yet and you are going to wait until I am done filling out this form to start talking to me.

Mediator takes the agreement form to get a commissioners signature. I stare across the table at Housing Manager. She looks like this is about as big a deal as drinking a cup of Kool-Aid.

Mediator comes back in, Housing Manager starts barking orders about which copy I get. She wants to make sure it's the clearest and easiest to read, so I can clearly see what I need to do.

Save it. I know the game. Pay on time.

I'm free to go? Sweet. I take a minute or so to get my backpack open and stow my copies of the form, and Housing Manager calls in the next case. I grab my shit, GTFO, and go look for the nearest bus stop that will get me back to campus from downtown.

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Epilogue

I don't doubt for a second that Housing Managet would have speed dialed the Sherriffs Office to have me removed from my place ASAP if I didn't have disability benefit money coming in soon. 

You can say all you want about Porchlight being a charity. Call it whatever you want, It's all about the money just like any other business.

My case manager ddn't do shit to help me deal with the eviction case. Neither the VA liaison nor the Peer Support Specialist did or said anything to help me.

I got online and read the local regs and ordinances to make sure I had my shit together for today. I talked to the Tenant Resource Center and the Veterans Law Clinic. I did the paperwork and math to make sure I knew what I really owed for rent. Had I not known my rights and made it clear that I know them, I could really have been screwed over today.

Some advice: no matter what Porchlight or any other homeless housing agency tells you, don't take what they say as gospel. Read everything they give you to sign and don't sign unless you understand what you're signing.

Verify rent payments and keep receipts. Something wrong? Raise holy hell about it until it gets fixed.

-----

Hey VA: organizations like Porchlight are not the way to end homelessness. They're not accountable to anyone, because they are outside the VA. They say they're helping veterans, but when a veteran has problems there's a quick path to being back on the street. They don't take into account that every veteran, and every veterans situation, is different.

It took going to court and risking being evicted for me to get a simple list of what I owe for rent for each month I've been here.

It took me going to the patient advocate for anyone to blink an eye about a maintenance guy being in my room working while I was asleep.

There are other veterans here, in this facility, that are being jacked around with rent even worse than I have been jacked around. The guys with #PTSD have it the worst, because while we're trying to process what the fuck's going on, Porchlight sees us as the problem instead of training people to help.

My advice? Bring the homeless program completely in-agency. VA buildings staffed with VA case managers and VA social workers who are themselves veterans. 

I know it's not that simple-- but if you leave control in the hands of people who are not veterans and who will put a homeless vet back on the street without producing a drop of sweat, you're going to have a shitstorm on your hands when the OEF/OIF brothers and sisters start having problems a few years from now.

As for me, I can't get the fuck out of the Grant Per Diem program fast enough.













Talk to the hand? I think not.

I had an appointment with my county veterans service office, scheduled for this morning. I'm not going-- I got about 45 minutes of sleep last night, my left temple feels like someone is trying to drive a stake through it, and talking about what happened in the Desert today is just a bit much.  I know my limits.

I just went downstairs to talk to Case Manager, and let her know that I'm not feeling all that well, and so I'm not going to the appointment.

She starts talking about "I have something that might help you but it's probably too late now, you needed to talk to me on Thursday. I waited until 4pm for you."

I tried. I knocked on her door twice, heard no response, and left a note on her message board that I had been there.

I also tried last Friday, since at some point I remembered having seen her in the office on a Friday. Kitchen manager heard me knocking, and let me know she wasn't there. Fine. On with life.

I tried, again (I went through this with CM yesterday, too), to explain that yes I had in fact tried to talk to her last week.

Her response?

Talk to the hand. 

I saw you turning the corner outside on Thursday, and you didn't knock on my office door.

WTF?

Note to case managers everywhere- if you hold up a talk to the hand at a veteran with #PTSD who you know is fighting off a migraine after a night of no sleep, who you know is going to his eviction hearing later today, and who you know is stressed the fuck out as it is, do not try to act surprised when said veteran closes the door in your face when you call him a liar.

She didn't follow me back upstairs, and I did not expect her to. My triggered up to here brain is imagining that she's writing up how uncooperative I am. That's how things work here- make sure to document that it's the veterans fault. 

Pro tip, CM: check the surveillance cameras from last Thursday. Pretty sure you'll see me standing in front of your door knocking.

I'd call someone to complain, but there's no one to call. The patient advocate and the social work offices at the VA hospital won't listen, because they don't run vets house, Porchlight does. Who is there to call at Porchlight, my VA social worker who knows I'm going to eviction court today but who hasn't said a word to me for months?

-----

(Deeeep breath)

-----

In the military, there is no such thing as talking to the hand. Tell an NCO or an officer to "talk to the hand" and you'll be damn lucky if all you lose is a stripe.

The military can be really fucked up sometimes, but respect and bearing always apply. Not so with some civilians, even some of those trusted to care for veterans.

No, I don't pull punches. Not any more.



















09 March 2014

Why fight eviction if I don't want to be here anyway?

You know, it's odd. Other residents of vets house tell me that they've heard the case managers here talking about me openly in the chow hall, yet no one has stepped up and said "Hey Opus, whatever happens with your eviction hearing we're behind you." I don't really expect that they will, no matter what happens in court. The case managers work for Porchlight. Whose side are they going to be on? Especially when once I ultimately move out there will be another veteran moving in who won't be such a pain in the ass.

Do I owe back rent? I'm still gathering paperwork. but I'll have it figured out by Tuesday's mediation hearing. I don't have a problem if it turns out I'm wrong and I need to pay up. I'm not trying to cheat anyone. 

I do want to note that I don't have to pay rent. Rent here is income based, so if I didn't have a job I wouldn't have to pay rent. It would have been easy to say that I couldn't handle working any more-- I could have quit my job, and had no income at all for the year and a half it took to get approved for disability payments. That's actually how the program works here. No one gives a hot shit if you want to go to school and better yourself. Let's get you on disability. 

There are millions of Americans who would be shit outta luck without things like Social Security. For the moment, I'm included in those millions. Some people are disabled and in a place where they can't do much, and I'm not trying to start a discussion on who is riding the system and who is not.

With medication, therapy and support from the VA, and some accommodations from my employer and my university, I am pretty productive. I think it says something that I can hack for 36 hours alongside a room full of hackers half my age, and stand at a expo table next to those same hackers pitching the app I just wrote to companies like Google, Apple, GE, and so many others.

At work, I oversee, train, and work with people who are, again, half my age. They oversee, train, and work with me.  Teamwork applies across age boundaries.

I'm available if anyone is looking for an intern this summer, by the way. ;)

All of this is why I'm standing my ground against Porchlight. My world is full of the brightest, hardest working, most awesome people ever. Porchlight has given me a place to live, yes-- but at the price of stress, anxiety, and sleepless nights that no one is willing to acknowledge. Porchlight thinks it's okay to have maintenance people in my room without telling me (which is illegal here), and they think it's okay to blow smoke up my ass and tell me I made more than double what I made last year. Porchlight thinks it's okay to bill me for a month of back rent for a month when I lived on the street that month.

When I get to my room, the first thing I do is look to see if anything has been moved, which would suggest that someone had been in my room. I jump when I hear noises outside my door. I avoid talking to people when I'm home. I'm afraid when I'm home. 

When I'm in vets house, I feel like I'm back in the Desert waiting for a SCUD. On edge, ready to run for the bunker. Afraid. The PTSD is there when I go to sleep, and it is there when I wake up. It is there when I get back from work, from class, and from anywhere else I go.

I'm not fighting to stay. I don't wat to live here, and I never did. When I do move out, I won't look back and I won't let the door hit my ass on the way out.

I'm asking for one thing-- show me an accurate and verifiable accounting if what you say I owe. Be accountable, and know that not every veteran you try to fuck over us going to just let you get away with it.