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Finding Relief

January 11th, 2008 by Celeste Fremon

homeless-woman-skid-row.gif

Brand new and very smart writer (and USC graduate student)
, Matt Mundy has written a strong piece on General Relief in LA Citybeat. It’s very much worth reading. Here are the first few ‘graphs to get you started.


Arthur Walker is unsure where he’s going to sleep tonight
. Slumped at the back of the Department of Public Social Services office on the fringe of Los Angeles’ Skid Row, he’s put in a long, restless, eight-hour day. A hint of fidgetiness emerges every so often, but it’s obvious he’s been here before. If waiting were a card game, his slump would be his tell.

Desperately poor with a lifetime of hard knocks weighing him down in his chair
, the 38-year-old African American fits in well with the other people crammed into this office. Overweight and bald, glasses adding a semblance of scholarliness to a baby face notable for its soft anonymity, he cuts a sympathetic figure. His voice has an understated urgency to it, words tumbling out at a rhythmic clip, rising only when he gets frustrated.

After passing through the metal detector at the front door,
Walker joins dozens of others shoehorned into the cramped, windowless office, waiting for their names – many waiting for hours – to be called out over the crackling intercom. Two large sections of faded-green, stiff-backed chairs provide the seating areas, where some have already fallen asleep, limbs uncomfortably splayed out. Two upright fans futilely recycle the rank air while a lopsided television hangs in one corner, turned off. Everyone looks miserable.

Walker is here to grasp at the last rung on the welfare ladder for single,
childless adults: General Relief. But it’s a slippery rung. At just $221 a month, no one can survive on it for long, and it’s a short fall to the streets. That’s beside the point for Walker right now – he must get approved first, and the earliest the money can come will be next month, too late to help him out tonight.

The rest is here.

Posted in health care, public assistance, social justice | 15 Comments »

15 Responses

  1. Woody Says:

    Matt Mundy, go tell Arthur Walker to read rlc’s comment in the previous post about the greatness of California and its education system and economic strength. Why, by reading that, one would think that California had no poverty or crime because of the great job by government running so many things. With those opportunities, he should only blame himself.

    Of course, I was not surprised when I read this: “The last time Walker was on General Relief was July, when his case was terminated for not participating in the GROW program, a requisite for employable recipients if they want to receive the monthly grant. ‘Basically, I didn’t really have the time for it,’ he said, arguing that by having to spend 20 hours a week in the program he would miss out on hours of valuable job searching.” How’d that job search go, Arthur?

    But, by reading on, I see that all problems are rooted in racism–not personal responsibility. Blaming society for racism is one industry that won’t go stale as long as Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton are around. Why are people in California so racist?

    And get this from your article…“County supervisors claim that the county lacks money to care for its indigent population, and that the federal and state governments should step in to help.” Believe me, the people of Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi don’t want to support your failures. Solve your own problems.

    Of course, here we have another sad personal story blaming government and society and not looking for any solutions outside of more taxpayer money. It’s not wonder that California can’t manage its budget.

    Oh, and don’t think that I don’t care. I help enough people on the streets. In that regard, you may like this recent story. A guy came to up to me in a parking lot around 9:00 PM because he needed a motel room for his family that night. I drove to the nearby motel, took all of the cash out of my wallet except for two dollars to pay towards his room, and he got mad because I didn’t give my credit card to someone that I didn’t know and pay for the entire cost of the room. Some people just don’t appreciate anything. I hope he moves to California.

  2. richard locicero Says:

    Since I was here in August of ’65 and, again in April of ’92 I could hardly say that this place is poverty free. We’re not Switzerland or Sweden after all. But I got a decent education here and availed myself of the chance to take college courses in unfamiliar fields at my local community college for free and I went to CSU and UC when they were dirt cheap (thru the 70′s I might point out) and, everyday, I use the Freeways and drink water that comes from the state water project. Those are the hallmarks of a little something called “Civilisation” and have been for the past few thousand years.

  3. Woody Says:

    I paid for my college education, because it wasn’t “free.” rlc, you just passed your bill on to the taxpayers. I use the roads for which I pay plenty in gasoline taxes, so that’s not a benefit that I haven’t supported. I get my water from a private well, because we do a better job managing it since we don’t have left-wing environmentalists whining to us about mussels in Apalachicola Bay, Florida needng the water more than humans.

    Civilization is making it possible for people to take care of themselves rather than being slaves to and dependent on the government. We’re not Switzerland or Sweden–thank goodness. Americans founded this country based upon new ideas rather than old European concepts of rule.

    So, outside of expecting government to do more using others tax money to soothe your social conscience, what are you personally going to do to help Arthur Walker? Matt Mundy should be asking everyone the same question.

  4. richard locicero Says:

    Did you pay for High School? Elementary School? Why should post-secondary be different? Funny but Europeans don’t think so and they now enjoy a higher standard of living. (see OECD stats)

  5. Woody Says:

    My family paid plenty of property taxes for schools, and we paid for our own textbooks and supplies. My sister went to a private girls school after her new black teacher in the public school across the street said to the class, “English do bees my best subject.” (True) But, society benefits from an educated populace, so educating kids in basic subjects helps everyone. Maybe not in your case, though. As I remember, most Californian males stayed in college going for free just to keep up their 2-S deferments to avoid going to Vietnam. Studying the nonsense majors offered today doesn’t help anyone.

    Also, I don’t care how they do it in Europe, and I doubt that they enjoy a higher standard of living than hard-working, entrepreneurial Americans. Of course, the U.S. is the most generous nation in the world, but we can quit spending money to defend Europe and to help nations of poverty if your goal is to raise our standards even higher. Those other coutries don’t help much outside of their borders.

    Give it up. I know that you hate the South and that you love to bash America, but this is the best place in the world. If you didn’t know that in your heart, you would pack your bags and move.

  6. Woody Says:

    rlc, have you contacted Matt Mundy, yet, so that he can put Arthur Walker in touch with you? Surely you want to help him rather than waste time trying to convince us how superior people in California and Europe are.

  7. "reg" Says:

    Interesting bit from the LA Times, via Digby, on the smoke and mirrors of Schwartzenator:

    “(Conservative Republican Tom) McClintock showed the governor a chart he had drawn. It illustrated that spending under Davis had increased an average of 7% a year. Under Schwarzenegger, it was climbing at a 10% rate. Similarly, he pointed out, the deficit — the billions being spent over the revenue coming in — was larger than under Davis.

    “According to McClintock, the governor replied: ‘That is bad news that people don’t want to hear. People want to hear only good news. I don’t want to hear pessimism. I’m an optimist.’”

    Christ the (electable) GOP is a phony, bullshit operation. The rest if it – like “Honest Tom” McClintock is an Anti-Tax cult.

  8. WBC Says:

    This back and forth between ric and woody shows why we should do away with party primaries in which both candidates always have to appeal to the most extreme in their parties to get the nominations, which means pandering and saying one thing here, another there — like Hillary pandering to the illegal voters in L A, but in Iowa, playing up how she voted for the fence.
    But ALL the candidates to this, from Obama to McCain (Romney called him on it, so now I guess he’ll be more consistent).

    They should run for election off the bat, in a shorter cycle like in England, and tell us what they mean from the start.

    I’m not in total agreement with either of these guys, but I have to say Woody has a valid point about Walker being “too busy” to spend the 20 hrs/wk it took to stay in the program (for which there was no doubt a waiting list of needy people) while having nothing to show for his “job search.”

    I helped raise lots of money for and served on the Board of a WLA group called PATH, started out of a Presbyterian Church but run nondeminationally, which is a residential program to get the homeless off the streets and onto their feet. Offers spartan dorm residences, full kitchen where they learn to prepare meals for themselves, common rooms. Donations of business attire and decent street clothing, etc. But they must follow certain requirements to get in and stay in. To stay in: stay “clean” and show up for job interviews that are made for them, open accounts for pay checks and let money grow while in the dorms where they have no expenses, etc. If they “graduate” after a couple mos., volunteers help them get apt., put down security deposit, etc. These steps prove way too much for many of them, who basically want hand-outs. The “tough love” approach of “learning how to catch a fish, not just beg for fish” has been criticized as much as praised: when it works, it feels good to see how you’ve helped, but there are sadly way too many people who feel “entitled” to just being taken care of without putting in the effort.

    In one really bizarre case, a volunteer, a pretty young woman with a Masters, fell for one of the guys, a really good-looking and well-spoken church member from Africa. But after he moved in with her, it was clear he had no intention of working, because “in tribal Africa, the women take care of the men.” Whose roles, I guess, consist of spearing the meat, and that doesn’t translate into desk jobs. That’s just the weirdest case, but the “excuses” lots of them used
    include Walker’s “too busy” to do what it takes to get on their feet. So I’m pretty cynical when I hear government officials talking about just throwing money at the problem.

  9. WBC Says:

    Aropos my first para above: AP Reporters have compiled a “Candidates 08, Where They Stand on the Issues:” Interestingly, Clinton, Obama, Giuliani and McCain have all expressed similar views on illiegal immigration, voting for the recently failed bill requiring proficiency in English, fines in exchange for legalization.

    Edwards is closer to Kucinich: if they speak English and have jobs and aren’t criminals, they’re in. Romney wants to make it tough to stay, period, while Huckabee says, give them immediate “worker status” permits, then let them apply for legal immigrant status AFTER the cue of others waiting.
    Jumping the fence (breaking the law) shouldn’t be rewarded. I rather like the logic of that.

    On withdrawing troops: Obama and Edwards would do so immediately and not authorize any additional troops or funds (naive to tell enemy this); Hillary, would do so gradually by 09, giving Iraqis chance to step up to plate; Giuliani similar and Huck, McCAin and Romney would increase troops.

    Overall I like Hillary’s middle views. But not what she said in L A yesterday as quoted in Daily News: her economic “revitalization package” heavily features subsidizing some 40 million families with “energy subsidies, (what about all the renters who waste heat?)” and bailing out hundreds of thousands from bad loans (i.e., people who bit off more than they should have, and didn’t bother to read the fine print.)

    A real “revitalization” would mean across-the-board relief and ways to stimulate the economy, not just subsidies.

    But at least she’d be responsive to Calif., Nevada and other states bearing the brunt of illegal immigration, pollution (our ports are second-busiest in nation and serve the whole country and polluting cargo ships kill some 2,400/year and make many more seriously ill), make up for decades of being deprived transportation funds, etc. (Those like Woody should know we pay tens of billions more TO DC than we get back.) We’re the vegetable, fruit, bread and meat basket of the country and the billion plus we lose annually from costs of illegals are OUR loss for the country’s failed policies.

    (Diverging to a Calif. issue being disputed above between Woody and ric: I don’t think community college is a “right” that should be free. That only holds true upto high school, but I’d prefer vouchers since many of us are deprived of the “right” to this education with the lopsided school funding priorities. If people pay for community college they’ll take it more seriously, not “dabble” in courses forever as some do. If they want to do that, pay for it. Plus the system is the most wasteful in Calif: In L A County alone, voters recently approved a $2.2 BILLION bond for building libraries, gyms, science labs, etc., and NONE of these were built — from wasted plans, dithering, who knows what. Did no more than some landscaping and painting cosmetics. While Admin. is way overpaid. So now, of course, they’re coming back to voters for MORE money to try again. What a farce!)

  10. Matthew Mundy Says:

    To WBC:
    I don’t think it’s that tough to understand why Walker felt that the 20 hrs/week of remedial, beginners job training would be something that he wouldn’t be into – it consists primarily of classes on how to put together a resume, interview for jobs, etc., in the first bit. After that it moves onto remedial job training or unpaid labor – if you were already qualified for a job and had some years of experience in the field, I’m not sure you would be keen on 20 hrs/week of, to him, basically useless job training on Skid Row. Not to say, of course, that that is pointless for everybody, as many people would greatly benefit from something like that – but for some people, it may not seem that useful. Further, it’s not like he, or anybody on General Relief, is making off like a bandit – $221 is a pretty paltry sum. The solutions are broad-based, long-term thinking programs – linking relief with housing, etc., and yes, that would take some money, but as far as saving taxpayer money in the long run, providing housing for people far outweighs the costs taxpayers incur from chronic homelessness – check out this illuminating op-ed – http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/la-oe-mangano29oct29,0,4376068.story?coll=la-opinion-rightrail. Thanks for your comments!

  11. WBC Says:

    Matthew, even the xlnt PATH (People Assisting the Homeless) program I describe includes sessions on how to put together a resume, interview for jobs and such basics — which some 99% of people can use and frankly, even at job fairs for those seeking second careers or new contacts, people find it helpful for an “expert” to give them advice on this sort of stuff. Plus I’d argue that it’s a good life skill to do things even when you find them boring — we all know that happens in jobs a lot, especially at the ground level. And kids in school often have to repeat “boring” stuff they know or get failing grades — I’d agree that in the ideal situation, they can test out and move on, but when you’re on the streets homeless, maybe a basic life refresher is a good idea.

    As for doing what amounts to unpaid work for free, I can’t offer an opinion about it without knowing more. Students to unpaid internships all the time as a way to get recent work history and references on their resumes, so it might be a good idea. If it’s properly handled and not taking advantage of “free” help.

    Yes, I concur that homelessness takes a huge financial and human toll (the city recently got “50 of the most needy” homeless off the streets at a huge cost — there must be models in other cities they could follow for greater efficiency — I’ve heard good things about Miami, but don’t know the details), but as the PATH philosophy states, the objective shouldn’t be just to provide a roof over someone’s head but to teach and help them do that for themselves (barring mental illness or some other impediment). Thanks for your comments, and wishing you luck!

  12. Woody Says:

    The problem with Matt’s solutions are that they rely on the same bureaucratic idiots, who put past wasteful programs in place, to be the ones to put new wasteful programs in place. Businessmen and conservatives are always left out of the process, but they have more to offer in terms of what really works. Give me a week, and I’ll do better than all the “great minds” of L.A.

  13. Former VISTA Says:

    GR has been a joke for a long time, so Mr. Mundy’s article was no surprise to me. If you haven’t actually been around folks on Skid Row for a while, it’s hard to imagine the amount of effort it takes for them to simply get through a day. They have obstacles that turn life into an endless Catch-22.

    Mr. Mundy, I hope you can put Mr. Walker in touch with Chrysalis, if he hasn’t already been there. They have a day labor program and assistance to find permanent employment, as well.

  14. WBC Says:

    Woody, put in a proposal to the Board of Supervisors and see if they bite. The cost to provide permanent housing for those “50 most needy homeless” is a whopping $5.6 million — Common Cause from NY is the outfit in charge. I know PATH could do a lot more with a lot less — no doubt that gov’t is the most inefficient provider of housing possible, as Mundy says. Ditto for healthcare, from what I know re: single payer system in other countries. Irony is, that as Mundy and others admit the inefficiency of gov’t, their (liberals in general, nothing personal against him — at least he rolls up his sleeves and tries to help) only “solution” is for the same gov’t agencies to toss huge amounts of more money at the problem. And to blame the problem on a litany of social ills, incl. racism, as one frequently quoted UCLA prof says in the CityBeat article.

    It’s time for more public-private partnerships across the board, from building mass transit and highways (being done) to schools, prisons and the healthcare system.

  15. Woody Says:

    WBC, when I drove through Birmingham the other day, I went along an expressway with an interesting story, as it relates to the costs of government housing. The road connects the over-the-mountain suburbs to the central city. When they cut through the mountain, they tore down beautiful mansions on the crest overlooking the city. Eminent domain, you know. When the expressway construction got near downtown, a dilapidated public housing project was in the path. It was in complete disrepair because of the abuse of the unappreciative tenants. Do-gooders protested and said that the government had the right to tear down private homes for the road but not public housing. Huh? So, instead, the expressway construction was delayed several years as this was fought and there was one death related to it. Ultimately, the do-gooders prevailed and the expressway had to do a sharp swerve to the right to avoid the project, at more costs and delays. Then, the housing project was updated at something like a cost of $120,000 per unit–a price which could have bought nice homes at that time. But, before you know it, those units were torn down and a completely new housing project built on the same land at who knows how much money–just waiting to be destroyed again! So, when I went by it the other day, I looked for those precious units and saw nothing but bare land! They had torn down the “new” buildings. So, years of delays, huge cost modifications for the road, and expensive public housing destroyed three times in a relatively short period–all because the “do-gooders” were against progress and seemed to want to help, no matter how much money was wasted or the fact that that money could have been spent better elsewhere.

    I don’t think that the Board of Supervisors would appreciate my attitude or practical solutions. Only the taxpayers, but who cares about them?

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