Thursday, March 27, 2008

Its been a long couple of weeks

I've gotten a little behind on my updates after a couple of crazy weeks.

For St. Patrick's Day I celebrated by heading down to the Indianapolis Canal. The canal cuts through the middle of down town, shedding ambiance and elegance on the court building, historical society and several college apartment complexes. Apparently if you wanted to you could walk the 10 miles from down town to my job, as it runs unobstructed through the city. In honor of Indianapolis' Irish roots each year they begin St. Pats by dyeing the canal a translucent shade of green. The ducks don't seem to notice the difference but the green canal is difficult to miss.

I read an article that mentioned that for the first time n many years they cleaned the canal before the dying ceremony and found two bowling balls, 8 cell phones and an engagement bank. I'm surprised the canal wasn't green before the dye went in.

I took pictures that are still on my camera, once I upload them I will send the out.

As a VISTA one of my tasks is to learn about poverty, in essence by experiencing it for a year should help develop ways to combat it as best I can, even if that is simply by keeping an open mind. Because VISTA's receive a small subsistence allowance, we qualify for food stamps and it is recommended we take advantage of that opportunity. Now settled in I decided last week to begin the process.

Online it looks simple enough. You download the application, fill it out, and return it to your local welfare office. In 30 days you should receive a notice in the mail informing you if you qualify or not. I attempted to download the application, which didn't work, and knowing that since a lot of people don't have the ability to print the application anyways I headed off one afternoon to the nearest welfare office.

When entering the building you are directed to a large waiting room, full of uncomfortable plastic chairs. The 'GateKeepers' sit at a desk labeled information, next to another woman with a 'return forms here sign'. When asking the Gatekeepers were I should pick up the needed paperwork they directed me to a neighboring table full of forms for any kind of request. Of course the form I needed didn't happen to be on the table and they called me back after a few moments of confusion to give me the form that they were stapling when I asked for it.

It took about 15 minutes to put all my information in and I got in line at the return forms here table. Oddly enough that woman didn't want my form and I needed to return it to the un-informational information desk. The Gatekeepers asked me if I wanted to schedule an appointment or wait for the next available one. I scanned the room and decided that it might take an hour or so to get through and that was worth the wait.

The clock ticked by slowly as I wanted for my name to be called, sitting in the plastic chairs that after a few moments began to dig into your sides and make your back ache. Mothers with children joined me in the waiting room and the babies did all they could to remain entertained without crying.

Before I knew it over three hours had ticker by and they began calling people up one by one, giving them individual appointments for not the following day, but a week later. Considering that the next available appointment wasn't even that day it seems silly that they would ask you to wait.

My appointment was scheduled for this morning and I returned to the room full of plastic chairs after signing in. Once again those plastic chairs started to suck the life out of me. As the room overturned I noticed I had not been called and it was almost 2 hours past my original appointment time. I returned to the Gatekeepers and asked if they could check to see if my name had been called and I missed it.

She curtly informed me that she didn't know and had no way to check. She sent an email to my caseworker and told me that there was nothing else she could do and I should sit down.

About ten more minutes when by before a very nice woman with a quiet voice called my name from the front door. Oh I thought, that was the problem, I didn't hear her. Once in the elevator I apologized for not hearing her when she originally called me. She corrected me; she had never come down to get me because she was catching up from yesterday. Oh.

The caseworker reviewed my application, including blue booking my car because if it worth a certain amount they expect you to sell it before receiving benefits. After about 20 minutes of her entering information in she apologized and let me know that nearly 8 hours of sitting in a waiting room had qualified me for 5 dollars of assistance each month. Wow that carton of ice cream was gonna taste great.

She then realized that she had another VISTA that she did benefits for and she backtracked, reviewed their application and corrected mine. The second run through spit out a correct about of dollars for each month.

I was directed to another room of plastic chairs, where I waited for about ten minutes before beginning the process over again. The second woman processed my request through the system and explained what I would be receiving; she then took me to a third room on another floor.

An explanation of how benefits would be received was explained by the third woman. She asked if I was a student. "No, I am an Americorps VISTA. I'm volunteering for the year" "

"Oh. Well don't they pay you?"
"Yes, but it's only a small amount and the recommend we apply for assistance so we can understand where the people we serve are coming from"
"Well why don't you get another job?"
"That's not how VISTA works. You aren't allowed to have another job"
"Oh, well here's your card"
"Um ok, thanks…"

She rode the elevator with me to the first floor and I tried to explain to her why the being a VISTA is a good experience and has a lot of opportunities for learning and growth. I don't think she understood.

In reflection I can understand why it is so difficult for people who depend on assistance to go through that process. There were women trying to balance children and a having to take of time from their job to sit and be treated poorly by people who think they must have some power over the people applying. Overall, most everyone is friendly, and wants to help, you just have to get through the hierarchy first.

On the whole the entire experience was draining, but I gained a new perspective on welfare and the people who have to use it. Mostly it helped me to realize how lucky I have been and how thankful I need to be for the opportunities I have been given.

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