By Nancy Kelly
Some people apply for housing thinking it is an orderly, sequential event. Most agency applications are three to five pages in length. Either alone or with the help of a case manager, one would think the entire process –forms, evidence, statements, numbers –could easily be completed in a week or within a relatively small amount of time. NOT. ABSOLUTELY NOT.
Not last month or the month before, as one applicant was soon to learn. A quick glance at the Charts indicate why a “day-centering” activity for many might be gathering information and evidence that most agencies and landlords wish to know. Self-initiating could spare you a good deal of waiting and speed up your process.
Depending on who you are, there are easily 8 to 10 different items or pieces of information to secure. Obtaining this information is not linear: that is, the items do not always occur or arrive neatly one after another. Instead, many of them involve simultaneous action(s). One box alone might require two different phone calls, one mailing, more than one appointment with a case manager or several visits to a library or computer site.
One of the clearest examples of the simultaneous managing of one piece of information is the process of obtaining a birth certificate from out of state. All states have their particular application process on line: yet, often, two or three picture I.D.’s must be sent by mail first. Crossroads offers assistance with acquiring birth certificates, I.D’s and temporary copies of unofficial BCI records The agency even pays the necessary $5.00 fee for the official BCI and the fee for the birth certificate.
One intake staff member stressed clearly, emphatically: “No application is looked at until it is complete.” A typical comment on that agency sheet reads: “An application is not considered ‘complete’ until all pertinent information is received by. . . housing management.”
What-to-do with all this financial and procedural commotion smack-dab in the middle of your homelessness? Or dead-centered in the heart of your low income housing process?
Humble suggestion: Let the chart items be a “day centering” activity – where you focus on one task at a time across a two month period.
Walk, bus or ride to Crossroads for a picture I.D. (You do not need to be sheltered at Crossroads to receive these services. While you are there, sign up for a voter’s registration card which serves as a second picture I.D. Yet, you might consider, too, the downhill walk to Benefit St. to the Attorney General’s office for your official BCI (Bureau of Criminal Investigation “embossed” record). It will cost you $5.00, but you will have it instantly.
In cases where you know you have a felony or criminal record, do not assume something is registered in R.I. or in another state. While honesty is the best and only legal policy (applications stress this!), make it your business to “know what is actually there,” as well as the precise year the crime –or your last crime- listed. While most records are current, in more than one instance- an applicant did receive housing because an offense had not been registered.
A criminal offense from 7 or 8 years ago may not work against you if years of good behavior have followed and the intake person makes the decision to over-look it. As uncomfortable as it might be to face information you might wish to avoid, having an actual record carefully secured in-hand might lead you to another “day centering” event: visiting the Homeless Legal Clinic to speak with a lawyer regarding expunging a record. Free legal clinics are posted on the Rhode Island Coalition web site.
While only 5-or-10 boxes on the chart might pertain to you, three boxes or more could involve visits to several sites. For example, one visibly handi-capped person ironically had to secure a letter from a medical professional stating that he was- indeed -handicapped! (See Certificate of Disability form which accompanies most applications.) The disability award letter did not suffice. He needed the official disability form signed from his earlier, out-of-state doctor. One more thing to do?
Many of you share that you do not have a particular medical doctor; if you are disabled and applying for housing, best to connect with the doctor ahead of time who signed a Certificate of Disability. Chances are that your copy might be in another state. . . or in a few instance, perhaps you have displaced it. In newer instances, a doctor who has NOT known you across time will refuse to sign it. Good to develop your “local” medical relationship.
While case managers, outreach personnel and advocates help you along, self-initiating requirements for housing applications can happily further your cause. We have all heard each other–friends, roommates, coffee buddies, case managers, advocates, clients–acknowledging the excessive amount of waiting which the homeless/sheltered population endures. At Friday Speak-out events at Mathewson Street Church(3:00 every other Friday), participants consistently hear each other venting about the amount of WAITING that adds stress to daily lives.