Reminder:

The Salem County Department of Health and Human Services and the Salem County Office on Aging and Disabilities is offering Legal Talks on Thursday, 1/28/21 from 1 – 3 pm by telephone or Zoom. The topic is “Tenant’s Rights During Covid” and is free for Salem County residents. Call 856 339 8622 for the required advanced registration and to receive the registration code.

For transportation to the next Scoot trip to Shop Rite call 856 339 8644

Stay connected: www,facebook.com/salemcounty.ooa and scseniors@salemcountynj.gov

Helping People Differently Abled

I have been involved with individuals that have educational, emotional, vocational and mobility issues for the last 50 years. The one thing that has not changed in all of that time is that funding and services are always limited or not available. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law by President George H.W. Bush in 1990, but didn’t actually go into effect until early in 1992. From the beginning, there were provisions to ensure the rights of the disabled, but not necessarily the funding.

It is now 2021 and things really haven’t changed as far as the funding. Individuals have their rights recognized, but not the funding to enjoy those rights. My recent posts have focused on helping a homeless relative that has a number of documented disabilities and requests from my blog readers that are in desperate situations. They or a family member need wheel chairs to be mobile, but they can’t afford to have a wheel chair ramp installed because they do not have the necessary resources. They can’t easily get into or out of their homes because their homes aren’t accessible and they can’t use their bathrooms because they can’t get their wheel chair through the door. If they get help into the bathroom, they require assistance from someone strong enough and skilled enough to help them. Often, the resources for any of these barriers are not available.

With all of the discussions about how our country will proceed under a new administration, and the disagreements that our citizens have about priorities, policies and human rights, I am making a plea to have individuals support our differently able citizens. I hear people talk about the silent majority, but few people talking about the invisible minority that needs our collective assistance.

Accessing Benefits: continued

As I mentioned in a previous post, the important thing to keep in mind is that this is not an easy or a quick process a help a homeless person obtain financial benefits. Without a mailing address or a telephone, the homeless are not usually equipped to navigate this process or provide the timely responses to communications requesting updated information. In Aaron’s case, he had a social worker help him apply for benefits while he was in the hospital during November of 2017. As a result, he received $50.00 a month on a card that he could use to pay for expenses. It was supposed to be for incidental expenses because he was hospitalized. Three years later, I have found out that he was supposed to contact Social Security to let them know he was out of the hospital and this amount should have been increased to pay for increased housing, food and routine expenses.

During November of this year, I received a letter for him stating that his benefits were being stopped until they could obtain updated information about his status. It is now January 2021 and his small benefit has been stopped. There have been three telephone meetings with Social Security because the offices are closed to the public and his case is still not settled. The hardest part is to keep Aaron focused of controlling what he can control and remain as calm as he can. With all of the disappointments and bad decision making, keeping him calm and focused on what can be is a major task. The pandemic makes it even more difficult because everything is virtual and has an extended time frame.

He is in a program that is providing him with a motel room, medical and counseling services, but basic needs of food, clothing, laundry services and etc. are uncertain. In this case, he has family to help him. but it is not an easy process. He isn’t able to handle the process of communicating effectively with Social Security, and even though the agree that he needs a Representative Payee to help him handle his affairs and the money that he may eventually get, it is now more than a month since my application was submitted to become his Representative Payee. It has not been approved and I can’t officially act on his behalf and they can’t totally resolve the issues to settle his claim. I spent another three hours on the telephone yesterday to try and move this forward, but they have to approve my application. It is a good thing that I don’t give up easily and I don’t get angry and start yelling and screaming. To be continued.

Unavailable Wheelchair Ramps

I continue to receive comments from readers from around the United States that have contacted their local agencies and have been told that they are not currently able to fund requests to build wheelchair ramps. I have contacted the national Habitat for Humanity organization to see if they could provide some guidance or suggestions, but I have yet to get a response. Locally, in Salem County New Jersey, they have experienced times when their funds for the ramp program have been depleted.

My colleagues that needed ramps, or helped others get ramps, have told me that it is important that newly disabled patients need to identify the professionals working with them as soon as they enter rehabilitation or before they are released from a hospital or rehabilitation center. It is important to ask questions about how you will be able to access your apartment or house and your bathroom. Often there is a team of professionals working with the patient at the hospital and at the rehabilitation center and they create a plan to address the various needs and goals for each patient. It is very important to ask about your medical and rehabilitation plan and secure a commitment that access to your home and bathroom is included in these plans.

Do not assume that this will automatically happen. Advocate for your family member or yourself before the discharge takes place. Once you are discharged, the burden of solving these problems become a lot more difficult to solve. Money is always an issue, but even more so during a pandemic. It would be great to identify a funding source for building ramps and remodeling homes to make them accessible. If anyone has any ideas or specific sources of money, please contact me.

Getting Benefits When You Are Homeless

My nephew, who has been homeless for more than two years on the streets of Camden NJ, has often tried to be admitted to Cooper Hospital to receive care for a number of medical conditions and to try and get off of the streets when it is cold. As someone that also has a drug addiction, he also attempts to get drugs for pain during these attempts. As with my friend Ray’s suggestion to contact the social worker that is available in the hospital and nursing homes to locate someone to install a ramp, social workers also help patients with drug addictions locate programs to assist them with their issues.

During one of his extended stays in the hospital, services were provided to meet his various needs and he was also signed up for Supplemental Social Security benefits. As a current patient, he only qualified for $50.00 a month to cover incidental needs. When he was released, he continued to receive $50.00 a month. After more than two years at this modest level, he was readmitted to Cooper Hospital and was placed in a program to deal with his addiction and other medical conditions which also included temporary housing at a local motel, a phone with minutes and a case manager and team of professionals to work with him. During this time, one member of his team reviewed his status and contacted Social Security because he believed that he was receiving the wrong amount.

It was determined that he was actually entitled to significantly more than $50.00 a month and that he would benefit from having a representative payee to handle a retroactive payment that would be in the thousands of dollars. Aaron was already using my address in Monmouth County to forward his mail and I volunteered to be his representative payee. During this time I was also working with Aaron to complete the forms sent to me and forward them to the local Social Security office. Because the offices were not actually open, a telephone interview was scheduled. We held the meeting in his case manager’s office and soon realized that they were not going to just send him the money.

After almost an hour on the phone with the claim’s investigator, we were able to submit an application for me to be his representative payee, but we were not able to get his claim appeal settled. He was still listed as a patient in the hospital, his last actual address was his mother’s apartment in Gloucester county, his mail was forwarded to me in Monmouth county and they wanted a detailed explanation of all hospital admissions, discharges and the locations that he had lived in since the initial claim was submitted. We were able to schedule a phone interview in January to provide this information. As long as Aaron completes all of the requirements for his program, he will keep his current temporary housing at the motel and his team will continue to provide services including the possibility of an apartment.

The important thing to keep in mind is that this is not an easy or quick process and the homeless are not usually equipped to figure all this out. The hardest part is to keep Aaron focused of controlling what he can control and remain as calm as he can. With all of the disappointments and bad decision making, keeping him calm and focused on what can be is a major task. The pandemic makes it even more difficult because everything is virtual and has an extended time frame. To make matters even worse, they have stopped his $50.00 benefit until they can confirm all of the information that they are questioning. What can the homeless do when they don’t have the help and resources that they need to keep up with the required correspondence and basic needs of food, shelter and clothing?

Getting A Ramp, A First Person Account

My friend Ray has been in a wheel chair for thirty years so I asked him what is the best way to get a ramp for someone that has recently become disabled.

As you can tell, Ray lives his life and not defined by his chair

As I mentioned in a previous post, Habitat for Humanity in Salem County does a great job in providing ramps, but money to build the ramps is always an issue. As readers have contacted me from outside of Salem County, I have found that not every area is as fortunate as Salem County New Jersey. The readers that have contacted me are absolutely devastated that money is not available or they can’t navigate the local procedures. I asked Ray for his advice.

He has been involved with the ramp program in Salem County and thinks that it is a great program, but suggest that the individual or the family member in charge start with the social worker or nurse navigator at the rehabilitation center or hospital. They are working with a wide range of professionals and service providers. He also mention that there is often a team of professionals that work with each patient in long term care. Try this and get back to me with how this worked.

A Recent Reader Post

Recently, I have been receiving email responses from my blog and decided to post this one. Like the other emails that I have received, it is from a family that is in need of assistance and the agencies in their area are not able to assist in providing ramps to their homes and they detail the difficulties that this creates as they try to care for their loved ones. This email is from Florida and I am not familiar with services available in that state or maybe that county. I am posting this on Facebook because I have Facebook friends in Florida. Any thoughts on where this person should go for help in Florida? Her story is listed below:

I’ am not sure how to go about this, but I am writing in reference to my son’s father who was tragically injured in a motorcycle wreck that was not his fault. The person who hit him did a rolling stop and hit him head on in the lane he was riding his motorcycle. He was in ICU for almost 3 and a half months, his right leg was amputated all the way up to his hip, he had a crushed pelvic bone, an heart attack, brain bleed and several other injuries that include 7 broken vertebrae. He was sent to rehab from the hospital.

The man who hit him had minimum insurance and every lawyer has turned us down. I live in my parent’s house (who have passed away) and I can’t make the payments. We are losing this house through foreclosure. He is my ex husband and the best friend you could possibly find. He has a home which is on stilts and I’ve tried everything possible (go fund me page, elder options and state assistance) to have a ramp or chair lift put in before we go homeless due to another person’s driving neglect.. We are trying to get prosthetic care started, but without a ramp we can’t get stretcher transport to take us to doctor’s appointments. We are at a loss and I am literally begging to find help.

He hasn’t been in the shower in 8 months because we can’t get him into the bathroom. I’ve had nurses, therapists and case workers giving us phone numbers to call, but we are getting turned away or no one answers. I don’t know where to turn for help. This has impacted all of our lives, and if we get foreclosed on here, we will have no where to go because we have no way for him to get in his home. We had a life till this man rolled through a stop sign and took what little we had to survive. l don’t think we can get help because we are poor. No human should have to just lay in a bed and exist with no help.  

I have had to quit my job to take care of Anthony who requires 24 hour care. Three months prior to accident, Anthony was able to buy his dream home which is on stilts and we can’t take him to his own house. I been trying to get help anywhere I can and I am writing to you as my last hope for resources to help him. It has made us so depressed and hope you can direct us some source of help. I’ am putting this out there in a very desperate cry for help I want to thank you for taking time to read this. We don’t look to get a free ride , we are just poor.

Homeless Issues Continued

Aaron’s SSI benefits of $50.00 a month were started in October 2017 as a result of the good intentions of a case worker while he was in the hospital for an extended stay. As a patient in an extended stay, the $50.00 would cover his incidental costs, but once he was out of the hospital, he was actually eligible for an increase in those benefits to assist him with housing and food expenses. Since that stay in the hospital and through August 2020, he has been admitted to the hospital an additional 18 times. When he was released, he was released to the streets of Camden because he didn’t have anywhere else to go.

Yesterday, Aaron and I had a phone meeting with Social Security to discuss the stoppage of his benefit and to complete an application for me to become his Representative Payee: someone that will receive his money, account for its distribution and provide the money to him or to pay his bills. They did take my application to be his Representative Payee, explain what information I need to document and set another phone conference during January. I need to obtain information concerning any housing cost that were paid by him since October 2017 which is $0.00 because he had no money and document any place that he stayed during that almost three year period. Recently, he has been provided with a renewable two week stay in a motel in Cherry Hill as long as he makes his appointments and abides by the programs requirements.

The rest of the time he lived on the streets of Camden wherever he could find a safe place, parks, abandoned buildings and even a port a potty. I am not sure that there is any way to actually document all of that and I hope they will accept homeless on the streets of Camden as an answer. Because he didn’t have an actual address or a phone, his benefits are actually being cut off for failure to respond to Social Security’s requests for a timely reporting of changes in his living status. The real world is not set up to deal with the reality of being homeless. What can the homeless actually do to meet the structured needs and requirements of an orderly system of expectations?

Homeless Issues Continued

Like a lot of homeless people and people that are drug dependent, Aaron is not very good at dealing with the frustrations of dealing with the workings of government agencies and their time lines. If you add in his bi-polar issues and figure that he might not be taking his medications, this problem gets a lot more complex and frustrating for him. The people and family members that are involved in an uncertain journey because he does not always contact us or follow through with his commitments. With that said, he does seem to be trying to follow through and move forward. He is adamant that he didn’t sell his phone and just lost it.

I have been trying to help him get another phone through his case manager, but this is a very slow process. I am going to try to get him a phone because it will really help with his progress. I found out that he is not attending all of his meetings because the ride that they send to pick him up will pull in, beep their horn, wait a few minutes and will leave if he doesn’t come out of his room. Everyone is used to leaving a message on the client’s phone about up coming meetings and a quick call to remind them. With no phone, that system is not working. I stop by his motel room (a 45 minute drive) to bring him food, check on him bring him his mail and et cetera, but he isn’t there very often. I leave a message on his door and he has found someone that will let him make a call, but it usually results in missed opportunities.

Trying to think like a homeless person thinks is really difficult for someone that isn’t homeless. I take so many things for granted and they don’t match up with Aaron’s life style. He has an email address which was created with the help of his case manager when they set up the phone that he was given. He doesn’t have the phone and doesn’t know how to use an email. He doesn’t know how to use the internet. Once again, I need to get him a phone and help him learn how to use the internet and an email address.

I also have been helping him with his Social Security account which gives him $50 a month loaded on a credit card. They just sent him a letter( care of my Monmouth County address) to indicate that they are reviewing his case and planning to suspend his payments because he hasn’t responded to their requests for information. His initial claim was processed with his mother’s address in Gloucester County, his mail is sent to my address in Monmouth County and he currently lives in temporary housing in Camden County. No wonder they want to verify his information. I have a phone meeting scheduled through my phone number on December 8th at his case manager’s office in Camden. I also managed to get him to sign all of the forms and I sent them to the Monmouth County office and I hope they get everything.

I am not his Representative Payee so I can’t officially respond for him and I can’t help him set up an on line account because only the individual is allowed to access this information on line. One step at a time and a positive attitude will move us forward. On the positive side, I do believe he is doing everything possible to make this work, Unfortunately, he just doesn’t have all of the skills and technology necessary to move this forward on his own, but he is on a lot of different prayer lists and I am committed to help him.