Archive for November, 2009

Monday 11/30/2009


I arrived at werk today at 8:45, went to my assigned classroom, 304, signed in with my name and case number and met my case worker Mr. Anderson. Immediately he said he would have to refer me out because I was wearing unacceptable attire–the new jeans my mother sent along with my sister who was in Brooklyn with me over the weekend. I guess my cute little blazer didn’t count as dress clothes. I understand that this program is boot-camp-like: designed to break people down, stamp out individualism, break the will, smash souls all in the name of fitting us into as neat little box that makes us easy to work with. It reminds me of being in the loony bin and given the wrong medication or being over medicated so we would all just be calm and easy to babysit. Most people were compliant, a few weren’t. I simply bided my time until I could get out as I will do here.

I was given a referral with a list of clothing pantries, sent to the resource room to use the inmates wall phone  to call to see which places were open on Mondays, if they had my size and could accommodate another body in their program. I hit pay dirt with the first call I made, to Jan Hus Presbyterian Church on 74th Street between 1st and 2nd Avenues. So, I trekked over to Manhattan’s chic Upper East Side, signed my name to a list and waited for intake.

I was in the basement of the church where two case workers in the homeless outreach program (both wearing jeans) were handing out toiletries and clothing to homeless or close-to-homeless people. They were also serving lunch in another room.

On the wall next to where I was sitting, the following was inscribed:

You shall love

The sovereign your God

With all your heart

And with all your soul

And with all your strength

And with all your mind

And love your neighbor

As yourself

Luke 10:27

Not sure what to make of quotes from the bible…

Most of the people there were regular customers, like Pete who told me the names, addresses and phone numbers of all the good food pantries, even one with food for pets. With him was Daniel—or Dee.  Dee, a pre-op transsexual told me she had spilled her entire bottle of Xanax down the sink by accident and she was desperately trying to get a new prescription, which she was having trouble doing because she has only recently refilled her prescription. I gave her the name of a few free clinics…You know, I used to work on the other side– in psychiatric homeless services.

After two hours of sitting and waiting, my turn came and Drew, a young caseworker at Jan Hus, asked me what I needed. I told him dress clothes and a written acknowledgment I’d been there. We have to have documentation for the BTW program of where we go and what we are doing to account for all the time we are not in class or we’ll be kicked out of the program. So, by the time the director of the clothing program, Frances (who could not believe my brand new jeans would not suffice for LOOKING for a job online as opposed to actually interviewing) had set me up with two pair of pants, two complementary tops and a pair of short, semi-stylish boots, Drew had my acknowledgment letter in hand and bid me good luck.

My next stop was my therapist’s office. I needed a letter from her to ensure that I can leave for my weekly afternoon therapy appointment. I have bipolar disorder and as if life ain’t hard enough, this program is already stressing me. I want to make certain I am able to leave the premises to get to therapy without getting axed.

I was late in picking up the letter from my therapist; everything is a sit and wait game in the city system. She was already with another patient and had to leave me an envelope with the letter outside her office.  I didn’t get the chance to talk with her, which I was kinda desperate to do.

Just tried on the clothes: I will have to lose about 20 pounds for me to wear them and not have them wear me.


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A program once scorned as a failed welfare scheme now helps feed one in eight Americans and one in four children. [Read the story here]

FYI, my current food stamp case was closed when I applied for temporary cash asisstance. So, I don’t know what my status reeating will be for the 45 day period I have to wait for my case to be decided.

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  1. Job Search Only. No Hanging Out, Chatting, or Cliques
  2. No Use of Cell Phones, Ipods, Electronic Games, CDs, etc.
  3. No Eating, Drinking, Snacking
  4. Internet Use – Job Search Only. Inappropriate Use Will Be Reported
  5. Do Not Change Computer Settings

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Wednesday November 25th

I am in a mess hall with about 25 other people. Most young,  a few older than me, all with darker skin. A few are in jeans, most actually followed directions and “dressed” for the occasion. I wore jeans. No du-rags or hats allowed!

We are filling out the papers in the file that will follow us everywhere for the duration of our lives in the welfare system. To #11 in the contract we have to sign, “Dress properly at all times (NO CASUAL ATTIRE),” I append a rider:  *I will comply to the extent possible…However, I own only jeans, no dress pants.  When the supervisor collects them – flipping through each one to make certain it is filled out properly – he compliments me on the most complete application he’s ever seen. What a feather in my cap!

We are suddenly being lectured by various men whose sermons about having a business-like appearance and positive attitude equal securing a good job in less than 45 days (before we are assigned to WEP) . These dudes’ spiels rival the political sermons of Jesse Jackson.

We are at the Back To Work Program run by a vendor contracted by the city, Career & Educational Consultants, Inc. Here’s how some of the speech goes: “Some of you won’t be back on Monday. In fact, some of you won’t even be back after lunch…” The speaker is at a fever pitch about how we need to apply ourselves, etc.

Then comes a more amiable and soft-spoken guy to proctor two tests. One, a 17 questions reading comprehension exam and, after a 15 minute morning break, one more reading and two math tests. I take the test and finish in about five minutes and sit for 15 until the test is collected.  I then stumble outside to find a cup of coffee completely dazed.

I come back in 15 and sit, waiting for the next thing to happen. It’s like a fucking zoo in on the 3rd floor of 270 Flatbush Ave Extension and that’s how it works, sitting and waiting for the next thing to happen. We have been lectured to make things happen, but we are forced to wait for them to happen to us.

The building is a dump, the workers are using their little bit of authority to squelch any dissent, especially from  Jamel, the wise guy who asks whether he can become a chimney sweep. He’s a jerk, but kinda funny, too! Finally the mild-mannered guy comes in with our tests; our first exams have been graded and we’ve been assigned a booklet from A-D. The two women on either side of me get a “D” booklet, I am handed an “A” pamphlet. There are 45 questions, reading, computation math and applied math. I breeze through the reading, go a bit more slowly with the math computation (I really don’t understand fractions or negative numbers or even squared numbers) and then the applied math completely stumps me. I end up with a score of 84. It’s now twelve thirty, we have 50 minutes for lunch….

More TK

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I was in line by 7:30 am this past Monday to apply for temporary cash assistance and Medicaid.

I’m a writer who has almost always had a day job. At least until I was laid off in July. My hours at my public relations job were reduced in February and then completely phased out in June.  Already I was living paycheck to paycheck and had food stamps to help. The cut then cutoff didn’t help. I’m also a freelance journalist and the small, random income held me for a few months. but that too had dried up. I don’t have any money to pay my December rent so I went to the NYC Human Resources Administration to apply for temporary cash assistance.

My case worker, Ms. Robinson, didn’t know what to make of me.  I’m a middle class white gerl with a graduate degree who says she’s working as a freelance journalist yet making less than $400 a month.  I had to handwrite a full page for the powers that be about how it works for me as a “writer for hire” with a contract for each writing assignment and payment at publication, not upfront.

No one in the office really understood where I was coming from, so I am scheduled for a BEV (Bureau of Eligibility) Review this Wednesday—and a potential home visit after that. I had to have my landlord fill out two forms, and I have to hand in an odd assortment of documents to prove I am who I say I am and live where I say I live and really don’t have a job that supports me and and and… I was assigned an appointment at the Linden Job Center for 9 a.m. Tuesday morning for job search orientation. I was assuming it would be like the time I was on unemployment:  useless tips about resume writing, how to dress for an job interview and how to intelligently answer typical  interview questions .

Instead Ms. Durbin, a savvy and salty older woman who was determined to make the meeting as short as possible, told us we were going to be put to work. Looking for work. That’s right, 9-5, five days a week, searching for a job.

We were, the very next day, the day before Thanksgiving, to mandatorily show up to the BTW (Back To Work) program at the Job Center on Flatbush Ave Extension and Willoughby Street.  And, we had to dress business casual to prepare ourselves for the world of work. Fuck that, I thought, I don’t have anything but jeans. I worked corporate for the past 10 years and didn’t wear anything but a T-shirt, jeans and my cowboy boots for the past four. We were going to be, said Ms. Durbin, looking for a job for at least 45 days to keep our case open and then if we did not find a job (in this economy?) we would be put to work in the WEP (Work Experience Program) as free labor in the city system. Failure to comply with any part of the program would result in an FTC (Failure to Comply), our case would be closed and that would be that. Unless we wanted to stand on line at 7:30 a.m. in the cold air once again and start a new case.

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