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Justice For Us

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I’ve been having some disagreements–to put it in the mildest possible terms–with Social Services. I’m semi-retired and get Social Security, Medicare, and sometimes other benefits depending on how much work I have from month to month. You freelancers out there know how it goes: work and income go up and down in our biz. The people who work for Social Services, however, don’t seem to get the concept of freelance–and they really don’t get the phrase freelance writer.

After several months of frustration, and with the level of communication at a low point, I went to Legal Aid, who, though they couldn’t help me, had tons of flyers and announcements on their walls and tables, one of which was for the East Bay Community Law Center, a Public Benefits Justice Clinic. It read, in part:

We will provide advice and representation in the following areas: CalFresh; CalWORKS; General Assistance; Medi-Cal; SSI/SSDI; and HealthPAC.

I assumed this was a new service that began due to a growing need as the so-called safety net of Alameda County, the State of California and the Nation of the 99% has become more and more frayed. Social Service programs are throwing people off the rolls left and right. While I didn’t have high hopes they’d be able to help me, considering my experience at Legal Aid, I went to the Justice Clinic yesterday.logo EBayCommLaw

You know how most services these days tell you they’ll make calls for you and get back to you in a week? Not at the Justice Clinic. I was interviewed by a legal intern–who, while not an experienced attorney, turned out to be kind, smart, and fully competent. She let me tell my story from Day One to the present, let me cry and rant without once becoming alarmed or horrified or telling me “I need for you to calm down,” the way people in her position usually do. When I was finished–and she waited to be sure I was completely finished–she went off to make copies of my voluminous file, leaving me to compose myself. She returned in a few minutes, saying she thought the situation was relatively simple. On my last visit to Social Services, the appeals officer and her supervisor  looked over my case and confessed it was too complicated for them, yet to this young, enthusiastic legal intern, it was relatively simple. She said she was going to make phone calls, and asked me to be patient and wait.

The room I waited in was furnished Early Non-Profit, crowded with desks, mismatched flea market chairs, and a large oblong table, with workers and clients scattered about, where conversations could be heard–but most people were too wrapped up in their own troubles to eavesdrop. When left to my own devices, however, I did just that, and  heard workers making calls for clients, speaking confidently and competently to people in authority about hairy situations. I couldn’t make out any cohesive stories–but the point is that these people get right to the work at hand. Think about it: who does that these days? What organizations or institutions go to work on a case immediately after it’s presented to them, without so much as a cup of coffee first?lazyofficeworker

After two hours, a long but worthwhile wait, M. came back with notes and reassurances, the upshot of which was that everything was resolved! Resolved! My benefits were being reinstated as of this very day. Awed and grateful, I asked M. how she’d gotten through to them: rarely have I called a worker at Social Services and gotten them on the phone; I usually have to leave a message that is returned maybe 50% of the time. Sometimes the phone system won’t accept messages. Or it’s broken down and does weird things like buzz or beep. M. told me she’d made many, many calls until she got someone higher up than anyone I’d spoken to lo these many months.

My next thought was that she’d been lied to, the way I’ve been repeatedly lied to all this time. So while admiring and appreciating M. and the organization, I still carried a bit of skepticism that my troubles were over. Later, however, it turned out that M. had indeed accomplished the impossible. I have nothing but praise for the East Bay Community Law Center, especially for the way they treated me and how they go about their work. Anyone out there who needs help with Social Services or other legal issues, I highly recommend them. Call first for hours and an appointment. Praise be to competent people with ethics!

East Bay Community Center
Justice Clinic
3130 Shattuck Avenue
Berkeley, CA

Two Days Later: When the people at the Center saw this blog, they emailed the following comments to me. For privacy purposes I’m omitting their signatures, but here’s what these good people had to say:

Your article brought so much joy to the entire EBCLC organization! 

“Great Story! Standing Ovation!!!!” 

“This made my day.” 

 “What an awesome story!”

“____ and I are actually crying right now.” 

This is why I LOVE EBCLC and all of ya’ll who make it what it is, including our resourceful and resilient clients! 

It is rewarding to know that our actions here at EBCLC can have such a positive affect on our clients;
stories like yours are the reason why we do this job…
we are very grateful for your kind words and appreciate your gratitude.
Your life is valuable, and you matter to us! 

What a cool way to be recognized.

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