Improving the “System”

by Cindy Kennedy

            There may be as many different opinions from homeless people about how to improve the current welfare system as there are homeless people within the system. Surprised? You should not be surprised. The welfare system is highly complex in its rules, regulations, and restrictions. It is not unusual that the homeless population are often treated as a single group identical to each other. While in actuality, there are as many different opinions on how to change out U.S. tax system as there are employed people.

            Although opinions vary from person to person based on experiences, even similar backgrounds sometimes yield very different opinions. Two women interviewed at an east side women’s shelter expressed their opinions on how to improve the welfare system. They have had some common struggles and circumstances, but each had specific needs and convictions that differed at the time of the interview. Common to both was a history of drug abuse, and both were undergoing successful recovery. Also, both had children that at some point in their lives were taken away from them, and both were homeless.

            Both women said that they had decided to seek recovery and wanted to get their lives in order primarily because they were “tired.” They both stressed this fact. Not tired in that they had not slept their six-hour minimum the night before. They seemed to be tired of the daily experiences with drug abuse, violence, and not being able to care for their children the way they deserve.

            Dee (not her real name) said, “If I had adequate money for housing between now and the time I can get into Family Transitional Housing I’d be set. But I’m worried.” Her check for $491 per month just does not cover the food and rent she needs. She cannot stay at the shelter for an extended period of time, but Family Transitional cannot take her for two months.

            Dee stressed that the way the welfare system could be improved would be by providing her family of four children, ages 8, 10, 15, and 16, with a little more money for housing. Dee said that the lack of affordable housing was a huge obstacle to overcome for women in her situation.

            When asked about the possibility of moving into the Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Association estates, Dee said, “That would not be a good idea for me. I’d never go back.” There are too many opportunities for drug abuse at CMHA. The CMHA has a patrol and “they do the best they can,” she says, “but it’s just out of control. They (CMHA) can’t help it.”

            Dee is a healthy 36-year-old woman with good communication skills and ambitious goals for making a living. Dee said that her history of drug abuse must have screwed up her memory because she finds it hard to remember job assignments and verbal directions. “Right now I have a bad memory, and I really couldn’t take a job just yet,” Dee explained. Hopefully, she said, with her progress in recovery, she would be able to retain a job next year. In the meantime, she beams with pride talking about her children, who are doing well in school, earning straight A’s and B’s.

            Another resident, Monica, said, “It should be mandatory for everyone getting welfare to get a GED.” She said that there are many programs for education, both high school and college, that welfare recipients could access. “There is day care available,” paid for by the state for those mothers with children, Monica claimed.

            Monica is working on her GED currently, and will attend Cuyahoga Community College next year to get her Plant Science Technology degree. The welfare system will pay for it. Monica is 26-years old. Why is she just now getting her GED? It has become embarrassing. Monica is now successfully completing a recovery program from drug abuse. She has five children, one of whom lives with her. The others live with her grandmother.

            Monica stressed the need for a high-school education. She had no ideas for reforming the current welfare system, except to link it to receiving a high-school education.

            When confronted by someone headed in the same direction as Monica, she said, “I would share my story and tell her she doesn’t have to do that. I would tell her she has choices, and I would take her places where she wouldn’t go otherwise.”

            Another perspective was provided by Nora Thomas, CCDC2, Pretreatment Coordinator at an east side women’s shelter. She said, “Six months is not enough time to get a GED, a job, etc.,” referring to the Job Works program which currently is set up to provide assistance for 6 months while a person is expected to graduate with a GED or find a job. Why is it that everyone else can expect an average of six months to two years to find a job during these economic times, but those on welfare must find one in six months?

            Thomas also said, “Early intervention leads to 90% recovery. We should have groups for those who misuse chemicals, not just for those who abuse them.” Thomas had strong opinions about the importance of spending more time and money on prevention.

            Three things would improve the welfare system, according to Thomas:

  • ·                                 More money for housing, depending on circumstances
  • ·                                 Mandatory GEDs across the board
  • ·                                 More time allowed to get GEDs and jobs

            With the current debate both in Ohio and nationally about reform measures for the welfare system, a concerted effort is needed to solicit the input of those within the system. It is vital when making changes to government assistance programs to hear what the recipients have to say about possible changes.

Copyright NEOCH and the Homeless Grapevine, Issue #8, December 1994-February 1995