portland independent media center  
images audio video
newswire article reporting portland metro

economic justice | social services

Divergent waiting times at Portland DHS offices

Recently, my monetary-influx changed dramatically (I was given a "discharge for performance" from a job; i.e., "fired"). I soon found out what I always knew -- that while employed I was always about one paycheck away from poverty. Within a month the severance they gave me was running out. Small trickles of money were beginning to flow in from this or that random source or odd job, but not enough for everything. I realized that if I got Oregon Trail benefits (i.e., Food Stamps), that I would be in a much better position to direct cash to rent. (Fortunately, my landlady is a friend who is giving me some slack for the time being. Thanks again, if you're reading this!)

So I went to the DHS office on Alberta and Williams, because it was conveniently located for me, and wasn't pleased with what happened.
I haven't gotten food stamps before so I read the signs carefully. Following the directions, I filled out the paperwork, took a number, and waited my turn. It took about a half an hour to get around to me. They looked over the paperwork, asked for some ID, etc., and then said I would have to come back for An Appointment (that's how they said it -- Capitalized). The soonest they could give me was June 14. This was on Tuesday, May 30th. Whoah, I thought. "Any way I can get an appointment sooner?" I asked. Friends had given me the impression the process could be quicker. "Maybe if you go to another office," they said. So I left.

As it turned out, the next DHS office that was convenient to visit that day was on SE 122nd, just North of Market. That was a fun bike ride on that sunny day with a good friend. We enjoyed a fabulous view of Mt. Hood and Mt. St. Helens at the same time from a bridge over 205 in Outer NE.

The 122nd office was a different scene. Nicer building -- brick with lots of trees. Shorter wait -- only 15 minutes. And a much more reasonable turn-around for An Appointment -- 2 days instead of 16. I went back that Thursday and an hour later had a working Oregon Trail card with a decent amount of cash on it. Yay! I used that plastic card to direct tax money to a local Co-op and got some good healthy food in bulk.

I'm posting this story here because I found the wildly divergent Appointment times interesting, especially considering the neighborhoods, which are marked partly by racial differences, though both have their share of lower-income people, class-wise. And if you're needing Food Stamps soon, I'd suggest the 122nd office. Someone else told me the 39th & Powell DHS office also had a two-week wait when she went, and that they didn't make it easy for her to have her kids there. I read a great children's book at the 122nd office -- "The Silver Pony", I think it was called. Find it if you go there.

Anyway, I thought indymedia readers would be interested in this experience and might have other things to add. Thanks for reading.

public service/ customer service 02.Jun.2006 19:27

a public worker

as someone who works for a different government agency doing a different public service, i would make a comment.

the difference in your experiences probably has to do with the culture of the workgroup. in my experience a good boss can make all the difference. beyond competent, a good boss collaborates with the front line staff, works to make the location a good place to work and a good place for the customer to come to. a boss that is not so competent, or even is competent but not exceptional, will not. the good people will transfer when they can to the good places to work, the ones who are stuck are overworked and unhappy. sometimes the culture of a location is just that, a culture that has managed to stick around through changes in personnel, like a wave through water. it could be class or race differences have something to do with it, but my first guess would be the not-so-good boss syndrome.

there could also be a difference in funding, perhaps again something that hasn't caught up with the needs of specific locations. again that would depend some on the talents of a good manager who is able to advocate well for more funding.

take care of yourself, and good luck with the job search.

No 03.Jun.2006 10:35

Way

 http://www.oregon.gov/DHS/index.shtml

Send your story in to someone at DHS. Public benefits should be equally accessible (including time frames)to all. It's BS that people in richer 'hoods get better social services, the system is not supposed to work that way.

More people visiting DHS office in the other neighborhood 03.Jun.2006 14:06

Let's be logical

The shorter waiting time at the office means less people are visiting the 122nd avenue office, which then translates to a shorter waiting time for an appointment. It's not racial, it's a matter of more people going to the Albina office. It's like going to the DMV on Powell versus the one in Gladstone. You wait longer at the Powell office because it's busier. Both are located in basically working class areas, the one on Powell even has more staff. But it's still busy. Not everything is a conspiracy, people.

Be careful what you ask for 03.Jun.2006 18:17

Marleen

"Send your story in to someone at DHS. Public benefits should be equally accessible (including time frames)to all".

Be careful what you ask for 'way'.
Considering the way the government works, they'll
reprimand the 122nd Av workers & promote the ones at Alberta.

welfare rights 04.Jun.2006 17:18

kirsten anderberg kirstena@resist.ca

I have a long list of welfare rights resources and articles up at http://users.resist.ca/~kirstena/WMASL.html. Also there is a great mag out of Wisc called Welfare Warriors at www.welfarewarriors.org.


hogwash Marleen 04.Jun.2006 17:29

public worker

it may work that way in your imagination, but that's not what i witness. civil service workers are inculcated with a duty to the public, not an adversarial position. isn't it funny how govmint workers are sterotyped as just putting in the time (while they are actually working harder to give the same level of service to more people with less money) and existing to harass you, the public, while for-profit businesses are touted as the better managers of money? for-profits like insurance companies gouging you for their skim money? need i continue with this thread here?

it may be an a less competent manager doesn't know how to bring more support to the albina location, but a good manager would look at the 122nd ave location for some ideas on better workplace procedures if funding isn't entirely the issue.

"Expedited Food Stamps" 06.Jun.2006 09:39

a mom Gwenevyre@msn.com

Hi. It could also be something as simple as the use of words. There is such a thing as "Expedited Food Stamps" where they are required to give them to you ASAP, not weeks later, but you have to request it.

Also, I have found that if you go and research the rules and regs and print them out for the caseworker to see, that will usually help them to do their job much better =o) (its called beauracracy, lol).

What I have found is that the general attitude is lousy, you go in requesting help and they treat you like dirt to begin with. This makes me angry, to say the least.

The runaround is disheartening but ultimately, the squeaky wheel DOES get the grease.

The legal aid office has a booklet or brochure called something like "Navigating the Welfare System" or something like that.

Imagine having to go through all of this and having to tow 3 kids around with you and no transportation?

get informed 06.Jun.2006 21:11

old hat

before going to any government handout office always find the knowledgable 'pro' in your neighborhood & get the lowdown. there are lots of loopholes & things to speed up the processes. the workers, to avoid extra workload for understandable reasons, won't tell you how to navigate the system better. compliant cows are easier & less time consumig to manage. you will need to insist in many cases on your rights, for instance to emergency expedited foodstamps. and don't take the word of the clerks at the window. they DO bold face lie on a regular basis. i know the system & hear them lie to people all the time. KNOW the system before you go. there are lots of people who, for whatever reason, have had to work the system a lot & they will tell you what to do. `;-)~

You too could be a public employee, we are just people after all..... 11.Dec.2006 00:24

doing the best I can...

In response to the comment: "and don't take the word of the clerks at the window. they DO bold face lie on a regular basis." Below is the url the the "Family Services Manual"

 http://www.dhs.state.or.us/policy/selfsufficiency/em_firstpage.htm

which outlines policies (both Federal and State) for all public services administered by the Department of Human Services.
If you take a look inside, you'll see that the policies are long and complicated for every program. Most likely what you hear to be lies, are really just mis-understandings of very in-depth, confusing policies that take literal years to learn (possibly on your part sometimes too). This can't be avoided however as all policies must be written to satisfy many different factions of government at all levels along with unions, public advocate agencies and legal aid organizations who give oversite for the rights of all. Policies are also subject to change at any time with no notice. There is a rather large difference between lying and being incorrect.
Most people do not take jobs in social services to hurt people, nor for some imagined sense of power and certainly not to take delight in lying to struggling single mommies. We do it because we've been on the other side of the counter, some still are there and the rest of us are just a paycheck from there ourselves. Some, especially the front desk staff, are still eligible for public benefits years into employment.

If you're interested in a career in social services, which really can give you an opportunity to make a positive difference, you can apply at the afore mentioned web page by clicking on the box located in the top left labled, "Jobs".