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Name: margalit
Location: Massachusetts, United States Professional writer, educational advocate, opinionated ultra liberal mother of 18 year old twins, living life in the slow lane due to hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, congestive heart failure, and diabetes.

email: margalitc at yahoo dot com

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Friday, August 22, 2003

Crap. That's how I feel. Total crap. Woke up at 5 am with horrible abdominal cramping, and the rest is history. I'm guessing food poisoning from the olives I got at a local supermarket olive bar. Can't even think about food today. Quite the unusual occurrance, that!

What is the whole Homeless in Massachusetts story?

In this state, you can't just be homeless. Nope, in order to qualify as homeless you have to have been evicted by a landlord and can prove it. Or you have to be living in a building so dangerous the health department shuts it down. Or you have to live in such a dangerous circumstance like abuse or other violence that your life is at risk. You can't just be poor. That doesn't count.

Once you're considered eligible for subsidized housing by any of the above criteria, you have to apply separately to every single town's housing authority for entrance to their waiting list. Nope, not housing, they don't have housing! You get to be homeless and on a list. The average wait for a rise to the top of the list is from 5-20 years. YEARS.

How it works is, you fill out all these inane forms that could easily be standardized but are not, so you have to do each one individually. Then you pay for stamps and send them into their respective housing authorities, where they are supposed to read them, and then tell you where you are on the list.

However, most of the lists are 'closed', meaning they aren't even taking names. So you go into the void, just like when you send your resume to some shmuck on monster.com. You spend your time filling out huge forms, xeroxing relevant support documents, and it's all for nothing. But you have to do it or you can't 'get on the list'.

In the meantime, because you're now considered homeless, you get to live in a shelter. Oh, not a shelter anywhere near where your kids go to school. Nope, they place you at the other end of the state because they can. Yes, there is a law on the books that says that if your child is enrolled in a public school, the state must allow your child to continue in that school AND provide transportation to that school for your child. But, in actuality that law is not enforced. See, in MA it's OK for the state to ignore it's own laws, but woe to the citizen that tries to ignore a law here.

Since there are not enough shelter spaces, and since the state is in such a difficult financial situation, instead of opening new shelters for the burgeoning homeless population, they instead place homeless families in hotels/motels/bed and breakfasts. That's economizing, Massachusetts style. A family can expect to spend 3-6 months in a hotel paid for by the state before there is room in a shelter. But the problem is, there are no cooking facilities in hotels, so families can't use their food stamps to buy food they can prepare themselves. Another cost savings from the state... fast food, which causes obesity in children, which causes long term health risks, which are paid for by the state's medicaid program. Make sense yet?

Another classic rule from the demons on Beacon Hill is that every shelter placement has to be accepted, regardless of location. So children who are enrolled in a school in say, Medford, might have to move to Williamstown for a few months for a shelter placement, then move again for a section 8. Continuity of education? Oh, that doesn't matter either. These kids are poor, so they have no chance of being anything in life. Just look at some of Boston's poor. Tip O'Neal, Ben Afflick, Matt Damon, Mike Eruzione. All a bunch of worthless do-nothin's.

Have a social worker? Don't count on her helping you navigate the insanity that is the Department of Transitional Assistance. They've all called it quits because the DTA lies to them, screams at them, and then refuses to return phone calls. And thats nice compared to how they treat the actual clients.

Being poor in this state is an embarassment. Your social contacts wither as people find out that your lack of employment actually means you're POOR. For so many, who had so much for so long, being out of work long term doesn't really affect their lives. But for those of us living paycheck to paycheck for so many years, depleting our savings and then losing Unemployment Insurance means a kind of deathknell for us.

In our case, our religious leader was judgemental and harsh and didn't provide much help at all. Plus, our family was treated differently than other families because of our financial situation. We stopped attending services for the first time in our lives.

Schools don't make it easy, either. They have nothing but requests for money, money and more money. This year we have to pay $180 per child to take the bus to school even though there is a state law that says they have to provide free transportation for anyone who lives over 2 miles from school. Yup, another state law they get to disregard. Think I ought to disregard that rule not to rob banks? When the edict on bus fees passes, there is an opt out for the poor. I send in my paperwork, but they need more verification. Why? They have all the information right in their damn office. All they have to do is look at who is on the free and reduced lunch programs. But no.... I have to make more copies and send more mail to support the claim that we're poor. I love having to do this over and over again for everything we do. And guess what? We get to do it again for after school activities and sports. They can't just use the same information they already have twice, they need it again. Aaarrrggghhhh! Is it just me, or is this insanity?

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