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Justice For Us

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I might have mentioned somewhere on my blog that I’ve been having some disagreements–to put it in the mildest possible terms–with Social Services. I’m retired and I 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. Years ago I had some sort of  formal thing I hardly remember, with a hearing and a judge who kept asking,utterly  baffled, what this writing was that I did. After trying to explain and unable to get through, I finally burst out, “You know when you go to the dentist? And there are magazines on the table? Well–somebody writes what’s in those magazines!”typewriter2

So you get the picture. I’ve been having some disagreements about which I won’t go into detail, since these things tend to be boring and confusing. It’s been going on, however, since January, and the level of communication was at a low point. I went to Legal Aid, who were–to use another mild term–unhelpful–except in one sense: they had tons of flyers and announcements all over their walls and tables. One caught my eye, about a project of 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.

From the way it was presented I assumed this was a new service, and further assumed they’d seen a growing need for it 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? No such BS went on at the Justice Clinic. I was interviewed by a legal intern–and though my rush-to-judgement self was at first dismayed that M., adorable though she was, was not an experienced attorney, she 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 curse and refer to imminent suicide 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 with my Jane Austen book. She returned and said 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.

I should mention that the room I was in was done up Non-Profit Style, on the edge of shabby, 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 is in itself impressive. 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

I waited almost two hours, nodding off in Ye Olde England, until M. came back with notes and reassurances for me, the upshot of which was that everything was resolved! Resolved! All was, this very day, to go back to the way it was, the way it should have stayed, without these “disagreements.” My first instinct was to touch her shoulder and say, “You’re great!” I asked how she’d gotten through to them, and she laughed and said “Do you mean literally or figuratively?” I actually meant literally: rarely have I ever called any worker at Social Services and gotten them on the phone: I usually have to leave a message that is returned about 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 carry a bit of skepticism in my heart. At this point, one of the things M. was promised has been done, which bodes well for the rest of it–but I won’t know for sure until the beginning of the month when my Social Security check comes, hopefully intact. Should that happy event materialize, I’ll sing unreserved praises for the East Bay Community Law Center. For now I’m singing their praises anyhow, just for the way they treated me and the way they 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


I’ve been meaning to add this postscript for months now! When the people at the Center saw this blog, they were thrilled and emailed the following comments to me. For privacy purposes I’m omitting the signature on each one, 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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