Monday, June 10, 2013

Working With The System Shouldn't Mean Getting Worked Over

Debra Buell documents the mold damage to her LP collection.

Mold is OK on the surface of Limburger cheese: you can slice it off.  But there's no cutting option with mold on a vinyl record or its jacket.


The fraud investigator considered all the stuff in the apartment, a lot of belongings.

He said: "I could have had you packed up and out of here in ten minutes."

Not an observation that should have been directed at a wheelchair bound person.

According to Debra Buell the investigator from Clinton County Department of Social Services summed up her plight with those words.  The implication was that she was "malingering" in regards to moving.

Another example of the treatment Debra says she has experienced after her apartment was condemned for a mold problem.  As detailed in a previous post - "Disabled Tenant Screwed" - she had notified her landlady months ago about a some mold around her closet where the main water pipe is housed.  Debra was worried that there might be a leak.

The problem wasn't fixed and so her apartment ended up being flooded out, resulting in an outburst of unhealthy mold.

Her struggle to find a new apartment and then move has been exacerbated by the agency that is supposed to be helping her: Social Services.

I spoke with Debra today at her old apartment as she was having it cleaned.  She was thankful for her home health aide being there to help.  But while some scrubbing can clean the stove and refrigerator, the mold needs professional attention to be neutralized and removed.  The situation is so bad, Debra says, that the health inspector has stated anyone with allergies or asthma should avoid the place.  The door and window were left open to air out the apartment, alleviating the musty odor that had been fugging it up.

She's grateful to agencies like HUD – Housing and Urban Development – and ETC – Evergreen Townhouse Community – for effectively responding to her needs, filing paperwork in a timely manner.

Unfortunately, she adds, Social Services sometimes doesn't respond at all and when it does it requires a duplication of effort.

Social Services wanted copies of the HUD and ETC paperwork.  Her SS caseworker told her that it hadn't received those copies.  In the middle of moving Debra had to contact HUD and ETC only to find out that both agencies had already submitted the needed copies.  And to make sure, both agencies submitted them a second time.

Debra also criticizes SS for its ever changing story.  It would tell her that the all paperwork it required was finished, only to come back the next day with more forms to fill out.  She says that she has processed a "crapload" of paperwork.

Communication, she says, is a key area that SS needs to fix.

She was staying temporarily at a local motel, not expecting to find a new place so soon.  But on Friday, May 31, she did find one.  Instead of putting her stuff in storage she thought she could save SS some money and store her belongings in her new apartment.

With the weekend approaching Debra called SS repeatedly to find out what she should do, careful to work with the system.  After no response she went down to the SS offices to speak with her caseworker.  She was told both her caseworker and the caseworker's supervisor were in a meeting.  She waited for around ninety minutes but still no go.

Forced to make a decision Debra moved some of her stuff into the her new apartment.  But on the following Monday her SS caseworker expressed consternation (my term) when she heard what Debra had done.  Well, consternation would've been avoided if the caseworker or the supervisor responded on Friday.  More paperwork to be filled out and processed.

Debra has a long list of such experiences with Social Services, including miscommunication involving a wheelchair ramp to be installed at her new place.  Since it wasn't installed she was forced to stay an extra night at the motel.  Money wasted by SS, not her.

What could be done to alleviate some of the problems?  Debra suggests SS should have an instruction manual for both clients and caseworkers so that everyone would be on the same page.  This manual would lay out step-by-step what both the client and SS should do when dealing with someone who ends up homeless.

A close-up of a wall shows how mold is blossoming in the condemned apartment where Debra Buell used to live.

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