Thursday, January 21, 2010

The crime of needing help

"I xxx xxxxx....!"

"I don’t understand you," the woman on the phone said.

As far as the woman was concerned, I may or may not have been a babbling idiot but was certainly speaking gibberish. As for me, I was certainly unwise and could well have been speaking gibberish.

Indeed, this wasn’t me. I was enraged - frighteningly so - feeling like a trapped animal, and I wasn’t thinking. I wasn’t myself - or at least the nice, calm, thoughtful, quakerly self that I like.

I had foolishly taken the phone from my attendant and was shouting at the woman. No, I didn’t expect her to understand me, but I wanted her to see - at least hear - that I’m for real, that I’m really disabled and in need of assistance. I wanted her to see that I wasn’t lying, that I wasn’t committing fraud.

That’s how I felt. That I was lying. That I was trying to get away with something and cheat the tax-funded system.

Last month, right in time for the holidays - ho, ho, ho! - I got my annual re-evaluation packet from the county housing authority, which administers my Section 8 rental subsidy from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development. I dutifully filled out and signed the dozen or so forms and mailed them in, along with the various documents I always send, before they were due and thought that, as usual, all was well.

Then, last week, a woman from the Housing Authority called, saying that the documents I sent - the ones I always send - were "inadequate." She mentioned needing pay stubs and other things that didn’t make sense. She also said that I had a mandatory appointment with her at 9 a.m on January 27 and that if I don’t comply, my subsidy will be terminated.

My yelling at the woman didn’t help. Two days later, I received an official letter with a list of required documents and stating the "MANDATORY appointment" and the danger of termination. It still didn’t make sense, but I was not about to go to the office, like a scofflaw, especially during the morning rush hour traffic. I was also damned if I was going to my Section 8, which I have gotten for almost 20 years after being on a waiting list for a few years, because of a few pay stubs and whatnot.

To make a story of a long, stressful, exhausting week (during which, among other things, the woman from the Housing Authority, in another phone call, scolded my attendant for not knowing my business) short, I paid $12 yesterday to fax a slew of documents - everything I could think of - to the woman. I called her this morning, knowing she wouldn’t call me, and she said everything is fine and that I don’t have to go in on Wednesday.

Relieved as I was, I was almost disappointed. I was thinking of going in on the 27th, without my attendant (but with my documents), and seeing how she fared with me and my gibberish. I know - I’m wicked!

To be fair, the woman was just doing her job, probably under the gun, no doubt because the Section 8 program is, like with In-Home Supportive Services which funds my attendants, is under the gun due to rampant fraud. (See my 11/4 post.) But this doesn’t keep me from feeling like shit, feeling like I’m accused of a crime, having to fight to defend myself.

Not helping is Tuesday’s shocking Republican victory in Massachusetts for the U.S Senate seat long held by Ted Kennedy, dimming the hope for healthcare funding reform and other life-easing measures. Once again, fear - and money - triumphs.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

I don't want to play - or be played with

It could be a pawn. Or it could be a football. Whatever it is, I don’t want to be it.

I feel like I’m "it" - tag, another game - with the trial regarding same-sex marriage now going on in San Francisco. Stemming from California’s Proposition 8, the non-jury hearing, which will reportedly go on for a few weeks, is to determine whether or not it is unconstitutional - whether or not it is illegal - for gays to wed. This essentially means that I am on trial.

I am not saying that the trial isn’t fascinating or even necessary. It is fascinating to speculate on whether this is a too-risky challenge to Prop. 8 and if the U.S Supreme Court, where this will no doubt end up, is too conservative. It is fascinating that one of the lawyers defending gay marriage is a big-time conservative and to see whether or not the hearing can be aired on YouTube. It is fascinating to see all the expert testimony given for and against not only same-sex marriage but also homosexuality.

What I am saying is that is that it is most unfortunate, even tragic, this has to go on and that I hate it. I hate it that my life is on trial, literally, having to be justified. That’s all.

A few months ago, I was at a community meeting on what to do about Proposition 8. It was suggested that we go door to door and talk to people about gay marriage. I flinched. I am all for educating people - hence this blog and a lot of what else I do - but I’ll be damned if I’m going to go around begging people to tolerate me and my life.

As I told a friend afterwards, I feel like a football and don’t like it.

Another way that this is like a game and that I don’t like is that, as always in a game, someone will lose.

Friday, January 1, 2010

A clear path in the new decade

Shortly before Christmas, I read an article about Caltrans, the California Department of Transportation, agreeing to settle a lawsuit by making the pedestrian passages along its roadways more accessible to the disabled. Not only was it a nice Christmas gift. It’s about time.

There was an article several years ago about a man who was involved in filing the lawsuit. He used a wheelchair and, I think, lived in Long Beach. He showed a reporter what it’s like to travel in a wheelchair along Pacific Coast Highway, a major thoroughfare with constant traffic. With some sections not having curb cuts and others having utility poles in the middle of the sidewalk, the reporter shared that it was a pretty harrowing experience.

Yikes! I remember thinking I know the feeling.

I remember it being pretty harrowing getting from the Santa Monica Pier to the boardwalk below in my wheelchair. (That is, before I found that there’s a ramp leading directly from the pier. Duh!) I had to cross a Highway 1 off-ramp, and the sidewalk was so high and narrow that I sighed with relief when I was able to get back into the street.

This doesn’t only happen in the big, bad city. I live off of a major road, which is called a highway, and I avoid riding along it in my chair. When I have to do so, I usually ride in the street. As unsafe as this may be, it feels safer than going on the sidewalk with all its cracks, utility poles, bumps, driveways, plants, etc.

So I say hooray to Caltrans for finally taking this on. The project will go on well into this new decade and will not only include improvements for those of us in chairs but also for the blind (audible crossing signals, etc.) and others.

Walking along a highway isn’t very attractive, not to mention safe, but sometimes it is by far the most convenient or the only route. A sidewalk that is really narrow or high or is blocked by trees and poles can very well be like having no sidewalk.

What were the designers thinking?

It is like the bathroom in the motel room that I stayed in a couple nights ago while I was on a holiday trip. It was pretty good, pretty accessible. Except for the mirror above the sink, which was way too high for me and anyone in a wheelchair to use.

Who designed this? Certainly not a disabled person.