Apr 13, 2013

Disability and Our Clients

NPR has been doing a series on disability in our country. Like many of NPR's listeners, I was amazed to learn about this system when I began working with homeless youth. About 25% of our clients do have mental health challenges, and maybe about 15% have physical challenges. Some are so damaged by the past that they probably won't become functional and contributing society members for a long time, if ever. Many just need an initial start. NPR reported that most people who enter the system never leave it (except by death or moving to social security pension plans). I don't believe that to be true of our clients.


Clients often begin to be interested in disability when they realize that street life isn't that much fun and they start looking for entitlements or benefits to provide income. They often call it a "crazy check" since the often quality on the basis of a mental health disability more frequently than a physical disability. I dislike the name, but that's what they call it.


I am always cool to the idea at first when a client shared with me their plans. I tell them it may be God's plan to provide for them FOR NOW through disability. They are free to explore it. There is no fraud or crime in applying if you're not qualified. But I'm a fan of telling the truth and letting the people decide if you're entitled or not. It is a crime to lie on the application or through the process.


However, I always tell them that almost all the clients I know who have received disability checks have grown to hate them and eventually do without them. It's not enough to live on. (NPR pointed out that it's only 3,000 a year less than working for minimum wage. In this day and age when overtime or even 40 hours a week is hard to come by in most starting jobs, and you don't get insurance in most of entry level jobs, that make disability very attractive to many.) It doesn't set you up and it won't make you rich. 


And every "crazy check" that comes to you has a little implied message: "You can't do anything. You're not able." If you start believing that, it can become poison. Most of our clients start the process and realize how difficult it is. Others take it for a while, use it to get started, but then do find work that they can do as they grow in social and coping skills.


We are glad that it's there. In some ways, disability has become a helping hand up for many homeless youth in America. It's certainly not it's main purpose or reason for being, but it does help. 


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