I have full knowledge how popular and somewhat cliche this is, but nothing could be truer. Do not judge a book by its cover.
On Monday, my first day back from my two weeks home for the holidays, a tall, thin, African-American man in his mid-40s came to my office as a walk-in. He seemed very quiet and sort of intimidating. He looked just like Snoop Dogg. He came to us because his public benefits were cut off for neither not satisfactorily participating in assigned work program, addiction or mental health treatment, school, or volunteer activity.
He said was addicted to drugs for many years and said he has never held a job. He recently completed a treatment program, has been clean for one year, and his worker recently moved him into the work program. He has been dealing with issues in drug court for some time, and on the day before an appointment he had for the work program, a warrant was issued and he was arrested. He remained in the holding center for about one week.
When he got out, it was Thanksgiving and his worker was not in the office. The next week he had many appointments for drug court, and called his worker the week after that. He was told to call back the following week. In the meantime, he attended all of the recovery group meetings for which he was scheduled. That following week, he received a notice discontinuing his benefits. He immediately went in to see his worker and brought his papers from the holding center, verifying the dates he was there. He was told, “It’s out of my hands. You’ll have to call a hearing on it. Are you using?” to which the client replied, “No, I haven’t for over a year.” Then the worker said, “Oh.. okay. If you were using then there would be something I could do.” “So, you’re telling me because I’m not using, you can’t help me?! I’ve been clean for a year and I can’t get any help?! And now I have to call a hearing?!” “Yes. There’s nothing I can do.” Which is NOT true. Notices can be withdrawn in certain situations when it is proven to be incorrect. This saves everyone the time and money for a Fair Hearing.
The client then went right to the recovery group and spoke about this. He was then referred to the hearings floor in the building. A week later, it was now the beginning of January. His Landlord came to him and threatened to kick him out because he didn’t receive rent. This is when he came to us.
After the client told me his story, he began to cry softly and covered his face. And I honestly think this wasn’t a fake, pity cry. To me, this was an “I’m overwhelmed and I don’t know what to do” cry. This wave of emotion came over me, and I thought about how I will never know what this is like for him. He said “I thought once I turned my life around things would get better. I don’t think I’m ready for any of this.” We sat in silence for a little bit, not an uncomfortable one at all. Then I said, “I know that I don’t know you, but from just what you told me, it seems like you are really on top of things and are making a lot of progress to recovery.” This seemed to comfort him more than I thought, and that made me really happy. I sort of said it for him, and sort of for me since I was so inundated with compassion for him. Then he said, “I’ve never had a job, I’m working really hard in treatment, and I don’t need this trouble. I don’t think it was right to sanction me, I was in jail!”
He had already called a hearing before coming to our office and requested to continue his benefits until an outcome was reached. Note: If the client wins, they don’t owe anything. If they lose, they have to pay it back.
Update 07/14/10: We assisted him in providing documentation and representation, and he won the hearing! So he was able to keep the benefits he received from the date of the discontinuance. He remains in permanent housing with correct benefits.
Think about what it must have been like to be an addict until your 40s. He must have felt like he was starting all over. Most likely everyone in his social circle was still addicted, leaving him isolated with no support system. Addictions are one of the hardest things for me to deal with. I understand it’s a sickness and feel so much compassion, but I lack direction in how to work with the people those issues affect. This case shows how important it is to have an advocate. He may have been able to win the hearing on his own, but this guy was an emotional mess, and very susceptible to relapse. It was obvious that he has had a hard life, and actually asking and receiving help was unfamiliar territory. I think about him a lot, and I pray that he continues on his path to recovery.