Sjoblom Family Experience
Hi, My name is Russell Sjoblom. My family and I were recently homeless for a few years, but have since found a place to call home. I believe that if I knew some of the things then that I know now we could have possibly prevented our homelessness. We became homeless due to an injury to myself on the job that ultimately disabled me for life and put me, the principal breadwinner, out of work. Through our experiences, we found many obstacles to overcome. Though not all were overcome, we found a way to get back up by persistence and although it was not easy at all, we DID NOT give up. Here I have written down what I feel are some of the most important things to do to try to prevent becoming homeless and even aid in recovery from homelessness.
There are things to look out for and things to do to obtain medication, food, health care, financial assistance, schooling, and housing assistance and temporary housing and shelter. We still have to deal with staying housed and as I get more information I will update this file. I hope this information will help you. Good luck and God bless.
Money (Employment and Public Assistance)
As soon as you see that there may be trouble with employment, check with your local Social Services to find out what their guidelines are. This will vary from state to state. See what programs they have available for your particular situation. I know that some people frown on public assistance but you must think of your family and you must do whatever is necessary to keep them together, healthy and safe.
When working with public assistance you may be told that they do not have the funding right now to help. This does not mean they will not help you, it just means they can't do it right now. Ask when they expect to get funding and whom else you may speak with. Do not just give up. Keep trying; some times they will get funding in a week or a month so keep trying. This is the only way to get a foot in the door. I know this can be hard and you may say, "I need the help now, not later," but who is to say that you will not need it later as well?
One thing to remember is that you must think and try not to panic. I know this is hard to do, but I know through experience that if you panic right away things will look absolutely hopeless. I had many times where I felt things were absolutely hopeless, and something would happen to go right. I will also admit that I panicked plenty, but using your head and trying to keep a positive attitude is very important to you and keeping your family morale up. Try to stay focused on immediate issues. I am not saying that it's not OK to cry if you need a release, I have done my share over the things we have been through, and it does help to let it out. Don't keep it bottled up.
If you lose your job, even though you know yourself that you are not eligible to collect employment benefits, you must apply regardless since most public assistance will not lift a finger to assist you till you show them that you can't get money from some place else. They will ask you about family, friends or any one you can turn to besides them for help and/or a place to stay.
I remember that I never thought that this was something that could ever happen to us, but it did. We were doing well. I had an excellent job and plenty of money and one day it all was taken away from us because of an unexpected, disabling injury. My wife tried to find work but did not have experience to get more than a minimum wage part time job. This can be very aggravating. Also, public assistance cut us back to such a low grant to make up for the money from the job that it made it impossible to try to get back on our feet. But the fact is that they don't give enough money to get by on, and when you work and think that this will give you extra money to start to get back on your feet, welfare cuts you back -- it's like they never give you a chance to get ahead.
The best thing you can do is see if they or the unemployment office has a program to send you to school to get a skill if you do not have one. In our case, my wife went to school for computers and then was forced by social services to take any job which did not make any sense to me. You would think that if they pay to train you to get a better job they would help you get the job you were trained for. We were not so lucky. The problem was that there were no jobs available in the time frame they gave and if employment was not secured by a certain length of time, whatever the salary, you were cut from the program or had to do community service, which in my opinion prevents you from going to look for any other work. But, that is the way it works where we are.
Some of the things we did to survive are to sell things you own. I know this can be painful, but you must think again. These things can be replaced some other time, and your family's well-being is of utmost concern. Top priority is to keep a roof over your head. If you know that your rent is too much to handle, you might try to look for something more affordable. Even though it sounds crazy to move in financially stressing times, this will be suggested to you by social services. The minute you see trouble coming, try to look before it's too late. You will be asked all kind of questions that will make no sense to you. Like, "Do you have anybody to lend you the money to bail you out, or that can put you up until things get better?" In our case, I was injured on the job and unable to work at all. Our family was not able to help with food or to pay for any prescriptions. We did receive some small aid from family, but only if they, themselves, could afford it at the time of need.
Try to cut down on expenses by trimming your phone service to the bone. You can call the local telephone company business office and ask how to do this. Do not use electricity or gas unless absolutely necessary. Ask about getting a large bill put on a budget plan and always stay in touch with the utility and phone companies -- they will usually try to work with you to keep your business. If you make arrangements for payments and miss a payment, call them right away and talk to them, never lose your cool. If you have to agree to terms that are too much, do it for now to keep your service and renegotiate at the time the next payment is due. At the end of the month when the new bill comes in, call them to continue the arrangements. I was able to keep a phone with an ongoing bill by doing this -- I knew we needed it in case of an emergency, since I fall down a lot and needed to stay in constant touch with my doctor for various other health problems and also for job hunting and doing various foot work to get help. I kept on renegotiating and slowly paid the bill.
Though a phone is not a real necessity for most people and that is what Social Services will tell you, I thought I would use this as an example since most people I have talked to say the phone companies will cut you off for less than what we owed. If you stay in touch with them and do not lose your cool, most of the time you can negotiate a deal with the service provider whether it be gas, electric, water or whatever as long as you keep your cool with them you can usually negotiate.
Food is a thing that you can't live without and must find a way to obtain. As I said, the churches are a good source to supplement what you have to work with. You can save a lot of money by shopping smart, using coupons and buying off brands or bulk if you can get it. Off brands are just as good or even better in some cases and will save you as much as 50% or more in some cases. Look for bargains at vegetable stands and road side markets. My wife has saved up to 80% of her total shopping order with the use of coupons. So start collecting those coupons. When you stop in a store they usually have advertisement flyers right at the door. Most stores will start preparing their papers for their return to go back to the publisher for their proper credit. Ask if you can get maybe 2 of their coupon pamphlets (don't ask for any more than that, they might not give them to you). Begin cutting them out and making your own filing system for them. You don't necessarily need to buy that item at that particular time but it could come in handy when it goes on sale in one of your stores before it expires.
Transportation, Shelter, and Storage
I know another thing that can be a necessity is a car and auto insurance. You can save a lot of money by trimming down your auto insurance to your state's bare minimum coverage. Also, if things get really bad and you own a newer car, sell it and buy a cheap used car. This is another thing the public assistance will ask, "what kind of car you own?" They will say that if it is worth money, you should sell it. If you think you can survive without a vehicle at all, the best thing to do if it really gets down to a roof or the car, it may be a good idea to sell it. In our case we had a really beat up van and we were going to use it as a place to live since we had no one to take us in.
This is also an issue, since at certain times of the year, shelters have no room and due to lack of funding, you may not even be able to find a shelter. In our case, two days before we were to move into our van, a church came up with room in a shelter they ran. Also remember that if you need to go to a temporary shelter, they will not provide storage for all your furniture, only clothing and some personal belongings. Even public assistance will tell you the same thing, no storage.
Another thing to remember is that anything you bring to a public shelter is at risk of theft. Keep all your valuables with you at all times. If you can find family to stay with, you are lucky. If not, you may be able to get them to store some of the things you own. We tried to store some things that were very sentimental, but they were stolen from the area we were keeping them. I know that for us this was one of the most heart breaking things to happen to us, the ultimate violation, being kicked when you are down. Unfortunately, this is something that happens all the time. We were very lucky since there are many families that are split up over hardship like this. There are people living under bridges, ditches and cardboard boxes.
Another thing to remember is that if you are lucky enough to get housing assistance, not all landlords will accept it, so you must call around to find out just who will do it. You may even find that your current landlord will not accept it. This is a problem a lot of times. You think that you have the problem solved, only to find that even though the landlord wants his money, he will not take on an assistance program. There is usually a waiting list for housing assistance, in our case we were told there was a waiting list of anywhere from 3 to 7 years. You must remember one thing; you may not have to live in a particular area to get assistance. What I mean is that if you live in one county and there is nothing available in that county, you may be able to go to another county and the assistance may be able to be used in another county. You may also be able to go from town to town, but you must stay within a state. In our case, we applied in a township that had its own Section 8 program. We had moved from that area, and one year later we were eligible for the program but had to move back to that area and live there for one year as a condition of their Section 8 program. After that, we can go anywhere. This all varies from town to town, county-to-county and state-to-state.
Most times you are not able to get temporary housing assistance until you have a lock out notice and sometimes you can't even get help till you are physically locked out. I know this is ridiculous, but where we lived this was the case. I asked them if it wouldn't be easier to pay some back rent to keep you where you are rather than have you evicted and start from scratch. The answer I got was " this is the way it works!"
Most of the time you can get the security to rent an apartment, but you must show that you will be able to maintain the rent and live. Catholic Charities is one place to look for this, also homeless prevention programs [see sources of help]. If you can't maintain the rent, they will say that it would make no sense to get you into housing, then have you evicted again. You have to have some kind of income to show that you can maintain the housing you are going to live in. This is also a problem sometimes, since in our case we were cut from any assistance because we were making more than they would accept and yet not enough to pay for a place to live.
Places to look for help
One thing to check is your local church. They usually have a food pantry and can supply you with food, toilet paper, soap and other necessities to get through rough times. Also organizations such as Veterans of Foreign Wars, Moose, Rotary, Catholic War Vets, Elks, Kiwanis can also provide help with food, money in some cases, prescriptions and other necessities. You do not need to belong to any of these organizations or churches to get help if it is available, or if they run any program for job hunting or temporary housing.
Some of the other places to look for help would be the local Scouts, Toys for Tots (which may also include minimal toys or books for children up to the age 13), Salvation Army and your local schools. In our situation, we received help through these different sources with clothing and toys for Christmas for the kids and some food, money and clothing from the school and Scouts.
Sometimes your local retail store may sponsor something where you can sign up you child(ren) for a gift.
Companies with free drug programs
These companies provide medicine for the poor through patient assistance programs. Most require that the patients meet certain income requirements. A few allow family incomes as high as $35,000 to $40,000 annually. You will need to ask the pharmacist who the manufacturer of the medication you take is, so you will know what company to contact. Even if the company is not on the list, try them anyway to see if they may have started a program since these numbers were released. Some of the manufacturers are a little slow, so be persistent and also make sure that your doctor does his part and gets them the information they need as well. The following is a list of companies that may be able to provide medicine assistance. Enter these names into an internet search engine and contact them through email or phone.
- Abbott Laboratories / Ross Laboratories
- Adria Laboratories Inc.
- Allergan Prescription Pharmaceuticals
- Amgen Inc.
- Boehringer Ingleheim
- Bristol Myers Squibb
- Genentech Inc.
- Glaxco Inc.
- Hoffman-LaRoche Inc.
- ICI / Sturat
- Immunex Corp.
- Johnson and Johnson (Ortho Biotechnology)
- Johnson and Johnson (Janssen Pharmaceuticals)
- Eli Lily and Co.
- Manion Merrell Dow
- Merck Sharp Dohme
- Parke - Davis
- Pfizer Pharmaceuticals
- Sandoz Pharmaceuticals
- Sanofi Winthrop
- G. D. Searle and Co.
- SmithKline Beecham
- Syntex Laboratories
- Upjohn Company
- Wyeth-Ayerst Laboratories
- Boot Boo
Depending on where you live you may find it easier to get help with some things than others. Some areas will offer medical assistance where you are not eligible for any other assistance. The best way to check this is to check with the local hospital or clinic about care for the needy. In our case we moved to an area where we were able to get a program called Charity Care. This will provide care for the entire family for little or no cost depending on your income. In our area, it will not cover the cost of medication but it may in other locations, I am not sure. You may be able to get food stamps, though it may not be for much, every little bit helps. Woman, Infants and Children (W.I.C.) is another program to look into. W.I.C. is for woman with children and pregnant woman and will provide nutritious food and formula.
Social Security & Disability
In general, Social Security Disability is very hard to get and can take as long as 3 years or longer to get. Sometimes there is the rare occasion that you apply and get it right away, so don't get discouraged. The best thing to do is obtain an attorney right from the start. There are law firms out there that specialize in just this and will not charge you till you receive your benefits and law dictates the amount they get and it is a very minimal amount. You can apply on your own, but after you are denied, you will need an attorney to file an appeal.
When you apply you should apply for every dependent in the home. You should also apply for Supplemental Social Security while waiting. If you have received any Workers Compensation, there will be an offset in your back pay where any money that you received will be deducted from what is owed you. Also you must remember to tell Social Security Disability immediately if any benefits you are receiving from Workers Compensation, Temporary Disability or Supplemental Social Security stops. If you do not tell them, they will pay you when the time comes, figuring that you are still collecting these benefits and it will take you a long time to get things straight. I just found this the hard way and also found that this is something you, yourself need to do. Your attorney will not do this for you in most cases.
If you receive Social Security Disability and are not eligible for Medicaid and only receive Medicare, you can apply for P.A.A.D. (in New Jersey). This is a Pharmaceutical Assistance Program that will help with expensive medications if you meet their requirements. Pharmaceutical assistance requirements for New Jersey as of November 14, 1997 are: single person, income of, $1,755.00/year or less; married, $12,519 a year combined (spouses income and yours) or less, and you must be 65 or older and/ or receiving social security disability. There is even help available for hearing aids if needed through the same office.
I found out that Medicaid will pay for medication, but I was not eligible since I made too much on Disability. Another thing I found out is that I was able to apply for supplemental Medicaid for my family and self as long as I did not have more than $4,000.00 in available resources. I had received a lump sum payment for back pay from Disability that was more than $4,000.00 and was ineligible till the money was spent. I needed to keep receipts for ALL expenditures to show where the money was going and open a checking account for direct deposit of my benefit checks each month. This way I could show what money I had each month so a determination could be reached each month on eligibility. If I were to go over the $4,000.00 anytime I would be denied for that month.
Something else that I should mention is the fact that after you receive a favorable decision it can still take several months before you receive a check or medical coverage. I know this was the case for me and it really is amazing just how long they take to do things when you tell them you are in need. I finally was able to get someone who told me that I could apply for what is called a Critical Payment. This is an advance on your back pay. What they do is calculate what your expected rate of pay will be -- though it may not be accurate, it beats a blank! The amount may be less or more, so do not count on what the figure is in a critical payment as your regular rate, since it is only a rough estimate just to get you some relief. I also found that you may request a letter stating that you are indeed covered under medical insurance. This letter can be used until a permanent Medical ID card can be issued.
I did not find out about these things till almost 3 months after the decision was in and I hope this will help you get faster action than I got. It seems that they do not volunteer any information but if you ask the right questions or make a mistake you will get the most unexpected answer in the form of helpful information and wonder why they did not say something sooner. I guess the response would be "you didn't ask!" Every one I spoke to at Social Security was very nice and helpful, but as I said you have to ask a lot of questions so ask away! As they told me, that's what were here for!
Russell W. Sjoblom