Social service misfits get no help FWD

Tom Boland (
Wed, 17 Jun 1998 06:18:14 -0700 (PDT)

Deconstruction exercise:

The article below "frames" some homeless people as "service resistant".
What policies and practices could such a "frame" justify?
Whose interests would such policies and practices advance?,1113,28054,00.html
FWD  Modesto [CA] Bee - June 16, 1998


     By Ralph Jennings - Bee staff writer

   Among the thousands of people who seek shelter, money and
guidance from local social service agencies are a few who, by their
words or actions, reject help. They seem to choose the streets.

   Although most people cooperate with the counselors, clergy and
others they see for help, a handful don't. They can't sometimes, or
they're too lazy. Or they say the helping hand doesn't hold what they
want, or ironically, that it has prolonged their problem.

    Scrapping the charitable tone they use to describe their average
clients, service providers express frustration with the fraction of people
who don't cooperate.

    "They are not getting back on their feet," said Matt Crummett, food
service supervisor at The Salvation Army in Modesto. He's talking
about a number of the 250 to 300 people who get free lunches at the I
Street dining hall. He said they're supposed to eat the Army's free food
during a pinch, until they can afford their own.

   "As much as I hate to see it, they're staying in that track,"
Crummett said. "They've got it easy."

    Diners who fight must stay out for 30 days, but The Salvation
Army turns no one away for eating too often.

   Many charitable organizations set stricter rules, such as limiting the
amount of assistance and requiring assisted people to help themselves.

   People who consult the Modesto Independent Living Center must
agree to do half the work themselves. And half don't want to, said the
organization's executive director, Dwight Bateman. Every year the
Independent Living Center helps 1,900 people with disabilities find
housing, lawyers and jobs.

   "When we tell people about the 50-50 buy-in, they flake," Bateman
said. He said people who back out may expect others to see their
disability and do all the work for them.

   People also get mad at their case workers when told they can't get
something, such as long-term lodging or payment for child care. They
walk out and never come back, agency directors say.

    Sometimes staff from a charity or a government office throw out
people who behave aggressively toward a worker or another client or
who take more than they are offered. They might have to leave for a
month, or for good.

   If someone tries 15 agencies "and you're the last one, they'll go off
on you," said Dianna Olsen, director of Modesto's Community Housing
and Shelter Services. Her organization finds homes and short-term
shelter for people who need housing but can't afford market rates.

    She said about 5 percent of people who consult her organization
decline help. In 1997, more than 3,000 people visited Community
Housing and Shelter Services. The Modesto Union Gospel Mission,
with 225 short-term beds, has a no-return list of 20 people who have
broken the rules so severely that the Christian organization doesn't want
to see them again. Rule number one: Don't bother other guests.

    The mission sheltered 1,686 people last year. Among those barred is
a mentally ill homeless woman who sometimes turns to prostitution in
the mission parking lot.

   Some who decline beds, counseling and placement in
get-on-your-feet programs are mentally ill and cannot process
applications, say agency officials.

    Without help from a shelter or a case worker, people follow a
number of routes.

   They may move to a new town and explore the services there, said
Olsen. Others camp out along the Tuolumne River. They rarely return
to Community Housing and Shelter Services for a second try, Olsen

   Meanwhile, a service center may retain the client's file awaiting
another visit, a call or closure of the case. For example, the Independent
Living Center retains incomplete cases for a year.

    People not threatened with basic survival issues may make do with
what they've got, service providers say, and people who have exhausted
their eligibility with one agency may move to another.

   "When you're homeless and on the edge, you become very skilled in
learning how to manipulate the system, and that's kind of sad," said
Barbara Deatherage, mission administrator.

    Where people go depends on why they left, said Jack Shonkoff, dean
of the social welfare graduate school at Brandeis University in
Massachusetts. Some people are impossible to please, he said, and
others want services that don't exist where they live.

   "It's an intriguing question," Shonkoff said. "The biggest mistake to
make is to assume there's a simple answer.


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