The typical clients of the Homeless Action Center are extremely low income. Many are both homeless and mentally ill. Those who are currently housed are in danger of losing their housing. HAC clients suffer from severe psychosis or paranoia, and have chronic health conditions that have been untreated for long periods. Their situation is desperate. For many, their homelessness is chronic.
It is difficult for individuals to access the long-standing social safety net programs that are meant to provide for basic needs. Application forms are long, and it is difficult to meet factual requirements. Applying for Supplemental Security Income is virtually impossible without assistance. Hurdles include complicated forms, required appointments, and the need to document a history of medical treatment to meet a complex definition of disability. Even with representation, resolution of a case can take months or years.
HAC has developed key strategies to meet both the legal and the life-on-the street needs of our clients:
- HAC provides no-cost, culturally competent, multi-lingual, and client-centered legal representation. HAC has a zero tolerance policy for any kind of discrimination or bias.
- HAC staff have the tools to screen clients and to get the benefits process started, if the client so desires. For potential SSI cases, HAC immediately applies for General Assistance, CalFresh (food stamps) and Medi-Cal to help the client survive the long SSI waiting period.
- HAC actively pursues all stages of the SSI application process, from collecting medical records and filing applications and appeals, to representing clients at judicial hearings when necessary. HAC connects clients with medical and mental health care to help prove disability.
- While their claims are pending, HAC assists clients with maintaining their General Assistance and Food Stamps, with making and getting to medical appointments and with any ancillary needs, such as obtaining a birth certificate or ID.
- Both HAC offices offer 16 drop-in hours a week. People come to drop-in hours for help with getting General Assistance or Food Stamps, for help with their SSI cases, and for a wide variety of legal questions. People also come to drop-in hours for help with filling out forms for housing, or for help looking for housing.
- HAC recognizes the difficulties in our clients’ lives. We understand that clients may miss appointments, ignore instructions, arrive intoxicated and even manifest severe psychosis. We strive to give our clients the best chance of winning their cases while treating them with dignity and allowing them to maintain their autonomy. HAC does not terminate clients for anti-social behavior, or require that our clients do anything simply because it would make our jobs easier.
- HAC practices harm reduction. Harm reduction is an evidence-based approach to dealing with drug and alcohol use which recognizes that sobriety may not be a realistic goal for everyone, and instead seeks to minimize the harms that come with using and abusing drugs and alcohol, especially when doing so on the street.
HAC’s goal for its clients is to obtain SSI benefits. Obtaining SSI benefits for clients gives them access to a stable monthly income and to Medi-Cal benefits. Access to medical care and income leads to fewer ER visits, few arrests and time in county jail and greater likelihood of obtaining and maintaining housing. Clients who achieve this basic stability are better able to address their chronic health conditions, both mental and physical, and to receive treatment for drug and alcohol addiction if they are ready.