Homeless? You may have more help than you realize
Homeless people may have benefits they are not aware of--do you or your loved ones qualify for Social Security benefits? If so, here's some important information.
By Mike Hinshaw
Despite increased awareness and efforts of many organizations, including the federal government, the number of homeless people in the U.S. is increasing. Some are returning military, some are newly jobless. Others have lost homes through foreclosure.
To be sure, some homeless folk tell social workers and other interviewers that they prefer their "unencumbered" lifestyle and are resistant to efforts to change their minds. How true that is, and how heavily influenced by extenuating circumstances such as substance abuse or mental health issues, we may never know. Regardless, it's safe to say that most people want a safe, clean place to live--with access to decent food and medical care.
No home? No problem--Social Security benefits still obtain
What many people don't realize is that being homeless does not preclude anyone from receiving any Social Security benefits for which they are otherwise eligible. However, a homeless person could inadvertently screw up and accept certain forms of aid that would hurt them when applying for benefits. Read closely.
The best news is that the Social Security Administration (SSA) has a program to help the homeless; following are their two main Web pages:
- Social Security Online: Service to the Homeless
- Social Security Online/Supplemental Security Income: SSI Spotlight on Homelessness.
One of the first things to know is that no one is required to have a dwelling place in order to receive correspondence or benefit checks from the SSA.
From the #2 Web page:
If you are homeless, some of the ways you can receive your SSI benefits. You may:
have your benefits deposited directly into your personal bank account;
have your benefits mailed to a third party; or
have a relative or other third party be assigned as your representative payee;
have your benefits directed to a Direct Express debit bank card.
However, some aid can deny SSA benefits
The next important thing--and this is crucial--is that living in some forms of public housing can lower the amount of benefits one may receive, or even disqualify one from receiving any benefits.
Again, from the same Web page:
Living in a shelter, medical treatment facility, or a correctional facility may affect your SSI benefits. Living in a public institution may make you ineligible for benefits.
However, some safe haven facilities provide very low cost supportive housing to homeless persons who are unwilling or unable to participate in mental health treatment programs or to receive other supportive services. A person living in a safe haven will not have his or her SSI payments reduced for the support and maintenance provided by the safe haven. Also, some publicly operated community residences are not considered public institutions for SSI purposes.
Dig deep, for help
Notice the wording: terms such as shelter, medical treatment facility and correctional facility mean something different from safe haven. Accordingly, the SSA recommends using resources they have on their Web pages as a starting place to help determine which types of shelters can be utilized without affecting one's benefits.
Furthermore, the SSA "is an active participant in the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH). The mission of the USICH is to 'coordinate the Federal response to homelessness and to create a national partnership at every level of government and with the private sector to reduce and end homelessness in the nation while maximizing the effectiveness of the Federal Government in contributing to the end of homelessness.' " The USICH site has a link to what it labels (or shouts out, as it were) the "FIRST-EVER COMPREHENSIVE FEDERAL STRATEGIC PLAN TO PREVENT AND END HOMELESSNESS," a pdf. of a report entitled "Opening Doors: Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness."
If you, or a person you are trying to help, is not familiar with a qualified local agency to answer questions, another place to start is the nearest HUD office. Through its Community Planning and Development division, HUD has several programs that can help, including preventive programs.
Another way to go may be contacting the appropriate state agency or nonprofit organization. For example, in addition to the HUD presence in Texas, there's also the Texas Homeless Network. Try a Google search on "state name" + "homeless help" or "homeless resources." A news search might turn up something useful, too.
For example, here's a good, recent story (Jan. 15) about a helpful center in California. Some places tend to specialize: this Jan. 17 piece in Huffington Post is about a center in Denver called The Gathering Place, which is geared toward women and children and provides crucially necessary daytime services--one particularly touching story involves a woman whose big break was a seemingly small accomplishment that led to greater things. By being able to get a nice haircut, she changed her self image, which led to a job, which led to her getting a home she regards as permanent.
Although the main thrust here is to help inform about Social Security benefits that may be available, we also recognize that some readers may need to find survival help right now, either for themselves, a friend or a loved one. Toward that end, here's some links for possible shelters right now, today, tonight:
- Main link for this list, a .pdf file (which is not the only link at that site);
- Homeless Shelters by State from DoSomething.org;
- This list from a sorta' goofy looking site that apparently means well, all about shelters and soup kitchens, apparently compiled by a guy who has lived the life and is trying to pay it forward. More power...
If I were homeless? I'd have a dog
Now, to show the diversity of available programs--and the lashback that can occur--I'll close with this after-Christmas story, about a homeless guy who benefits from a program that helps tide him over when he needs help feeding...not himself...but his dog.
This strikes me right upside the head because last fall I was one eviction notice from joining the ranks of the homeless. Thank, God--the Justice of the Peace who heard the case knew the law well enough to deny the claim from my lender, who was pretending to be my "landlord." That being said, let me tell you--as I was contemplating my possible future without a home, one thing I seized upon was this: IF I have to be homeless, I can guarantee you I shall have at least one dog with me. At all times...
So, no, I don't think it's "irresponsible" for the guy in that story to keep a dog. I think it's a matter of survival. And it's time more folks realize how many other good folks are trying merely to survive.