She was always by my side / Ella siempre estaba a mi lado

Solid Ground’s February Groundviews newsletter and Big Picture News insert highlight our agency’s Language Access work. The lead article below shows Language Access in action via our HSS (Housing Stabilization Services). To read past issues of Groundviews, please visit our Publications webpage.

Laura Torres in her building lobby with her Case Manager, Pamela Calderón

Laura Torres in her building lobby with her Case Manager, Pamela Calderón

She was always by my side
(Interview interpreted & article translated by Pamela Calderón)

When Laura Torres moved to Seattle from Mexico City, she dreamed of a better life for herself, her baby boy and her husband. But eight years later and now separated from her husband, she desperately needed a stable place to live. “It all started when I lost my job,” Laura says. “I was living with my siblings, but we had a lot of problems – and my son and I needed our own space.”

Through her health clinic, Laura learned about Housing Stabilization Services (HSS), a Solid Ground program that provides financial and housing search support to Seattle-area people who would very likely lose their housing without the assistance. HSS helps people either hold onto housing or find a place to live, and prevents the spiral into homelessness.

HSS also highlights our Language Access efforts in action: Through HSS, Laura connected with a Spanish-speaking case manager, Pamela Calderón, who is originally from Bolivia. Laura says, “I always try to speak a little English, and I always ask questions, because I like it and I want to learn it.” However, when it came to the stressful process of searching for a place to live in a hurry, the opportunity to work with a case manager in her own language was invaluable.

“It is definitely not the same when you are getting help from a Spanish speaker than an English speaker, because working with an English speaker delays the process,” Laura explains. “I don’t understand English very well, and it is much easier to receive help with someone who speaks the same language.”

And beyond shared language, Laura is thankful for the cultural understanding Pamela was able to bring to to her situation. She tells Pamela, “You are Latina – you understand our needs. And being able to talk to you about my problems, you were able to help me.”

Laura says, “Once I was enrolled in the program, Pamela gave me a list of places that I could go and apply. She made sure that everything was fine; she did a good job. She was always by my side, helping me find a place.”

Pamela points out that Laura herself found the apartment she ended up moving into. Laura says,  “I was also doing my own housing search to find an affordable place with a good location so my son can be OK. The most important thing to me is to make sure that my son is fine and safe. So walking around, I found this place, and we really liked it.”

Laura now has a steady job with good hours. Her new housing is located in a brand-new, mixed-income apartment building with community spaces and resources for residents.

She says her 4th grade son is very happy: “We don’t have a computer, so here in the lobby area, he can access the computer. And they have games for him, and there is a gym. So he goes and takes advantage of it.”

Laura Torres in her apartment

Laura Torres in her apartment

Her apartment itself is spotless. “Look around,” she says. “Everything is really clean here and it is nice. I’m just very thankful for the program. It helped me a lot, and you can see the difference. I’m really happy here, but without Pamela, this wouldn’t have been possible.” ●

For more info, visit the HSS (Housing Stabilization Services) webpage, or contact Pamela Calderón at pamelac@solid-ground.org or 206.694.6841. 

Click more to view this article in Spanish!

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Reaching Solid Ground: An unexpected world

Dan Terrance, a former participant in Solid Ground’s Family Assistance Program, shared his story with us for our July 2011 Groundviews newsletter. To read the entire issue, visit our Publications webpage.

Dan Terrance-Alaska dock

A vintage snapshot of Dan Terrance, Family Assistance program participant, during his Alaskan fishing industry days.

If anyone can vouch for the reality that there are holes in the social services safety net, it’s Dan Terrance. He learned the hard way about assumptions our society makes about people living in poverty, and the dehumanizing effect this has. Back in 2005, a fall on the job shattered his left arm and ended his 21-year maritime career: as a Merchant Marine, then on cruise ships, and then on fishing boats. “Six surgeries later,” he says, “I ran out of money – and this shoulder started to act up two years ago – and the next thing you know, you’re in a world that you’d never expect to be in.” A hardworking, college-educated, former world traveler, Dan spiraled into homelessness, with public assistance as his only source of income.

While the surgeries restored some use of his arm, his shoulder is inoperable. Dan describes his injury: “What I’ve got, it’s a soft tissue injury, the tendons are all messed up – and because it hasn’t been taken care of, it’s just deteriorating. Basically, it can’t be fixed. Steroid injections, they don’t work. They put me on pain pills. Physical therapy just made it worse – so I was just stuck.”

Fight for restored dignity

Dan first connected with Solid Ground’s Family Assistance program – whose staff attorneys provide free legal help to people being unjustly denied public assistance benefits – when he was fighting to prove to the Department of Social & Health Services (DSHS) that he couldn’t go back to the fishing industry. DSHS wanted to cut his Disability Lifeline benefits for people unable to work.

“DSHS, from the get go, said there’s nothing wrong with me. They had me have an assessment. Their doctor said there’s pretty much nothing wrong with me that aspirins can’t cure.” But the pain he experienced told him otherwise. So, he says, “I stayed persistent at it. Then I got an MRI in November of 2009 that showed that I had serious problems.” So, finally, his benefits were temporarily extended.

But then a year later, DSHS determined him no longer incapacitated. So after consulting with Family Assistance Senior Attorney Stephanie Earhart, Dan successfully defended himself at an Administrative Hearing, and his benefits were restored once again. “I won because [DSHS] tried to say that I could go back to doing the work that I did. Now the fishing industry is the most vicious, hardest work there is. And I don’t care what your job position: Everybody has to be physically capable on a ship for emergencies – you cannot be up there with a bad limb – you become hazardous to your fellow crew members. And the judge sided with me.”

Dan T. holding his artwork

Born in Alaska, Dan holds a piece of his artwork in the Haida/Tlingit style.

A world of hurt

After he won his hearing, Dan spent his time productively, studying to get MCSE (Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer) certification, volunteering with the Pike Market Food Bank and maintaining computers in the Senior Center there, and creating his native Alaskan artwork. But then, while taking a shower at the men’s shelter where he was staying, he says, “I got a backpack stolen: laptop, all my schooling, my medical records, my drawings, cell phone, my pain pills. I gotta start all over again.”

Things seemed to be looking up when he moved out of the shelter into low-income housing in late October 2010, but then he learned in November that his benefits were going to be cut again, because he hadn’t returned paperwork. As it turns out, DSHS had mistakenly sent the paperwork to the men’s shelter where he no longer lived, and then penalized him for their mistake.

“Without my money, I can’t pay my rent; without paying my rent, I’m going to get evicted. So then what they’re doing is putting you right back out on the street, in harm’s way.” To make matters worse, DSHS “… began to say that my MRI was irrelevant. Within months, it was too old!” So he had to fight to get another MRI, costing $3,000.

With all of this stress, something had to give – and in January 2011, Dan suffered a heart attack. “I was here at six in the morning, waiting to do my maintenance on these computers, and it felt like a fire poker going right into the center of my chest.” Yet just a week later, with bandages still on his surgical wounds and no money for bus fare, he found himself walking over a mile uphill to obtain medical records, because DSHS demanded he prove he had a heart attack. When he got to the hospital office, he learned it would cost $1 a page to print his records – and there were 40 pages. Hospital staff, realizing his desperation, printed it for free.

At the breaking point now, Dan got back in touch with Stephanie. “I called her and said, ‘I’m in a world of hurt with these people.’ ”

Navigating the system

Dan says, “Stephanie knows the system, she knows what’s right, how to take care of things. She kept saying, ‘This is outRAGEous!’ So, she immediately sends a request for an extension. And then she got me in touch with Tony [a Family Assistance Legal Intern]. And then after that, it was all phones and emails and letters. ‘Can you do this?’ And I’d do it. And he would ask me to fill this out so he could get medical records, so I’d fill this out and send it back.

“They saved me a world of all that grief, stress. And I suppose they do that for a lot of other people. I still don’t know the system! And I finally got the MRI in July. As this radiologist says, it’s worsened since the last MRI. They found me incapacitated for another year. And so Stephanie and Tony got them off my back. They handled all the interoffice communications. So that’s what they did for me; they got the stress off.

“This was a completely honest injury, on the job. There’s a lot of people in a bad way that are not there because of drugs, alcohol or crime. It’s just the facts of life. And anyone could end up there.

“Here I am, five years later, six surgeries later, trying to get back into the workforce, trying to get a home going, a daily ritual. I do what I can, I volunteer. I give back what I can so I’m not just leaching off the system. And without their help, who knows where I would be.”

For more information about Solid Ground’s Family Assistance program, contact Senior Attorney Stephanie Earhart at 206.694.6714 or familyassistance@solid-ground.org, or visit www.solid-ground.org/Programs/Legal/Family.

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