Ms. Thomas, 65 years young, speeds along with her cane, eager to show us the new makeup she got for our photoshoot. She has a smile that lights up a room, but she doesn’t often share it because a traumatic attack years ago broke several of her front teeth. Nonetheless, she radiates energy and positivity as she tells us about the adventures and travails of her life, from a youth as a teen model to emersion in the street life of addiction,violence, and eventual prison time. More recently, from grieving the loss of her beloved husband and struggling with depression and homelessness to finding new hope, life, and adventures with yoga and even sky diving.
Ms. Thomas joined 211 LA’s Care Coordination program after learning about the legal relief offered by Proposition 47, a voter initiative that reduced certain non-violent felonies such as drug possession and some theft crimes to misdemeanors, and allows people to retroactively change their record. For many, this can open so many new doors that were closed to them – housing, employment, benefits, child custody, and more. 211 LA is the hub for helping people find and walk through these doors.
As soon as Ms. Thomas got her letter from LA County in the mail, she called 211 to get started, and she hasn’t stopped pursuing her goals since. When she first called 211, Ms. Thomas was living primarily in her car, having lost her housing after her husband’s death when she couldn’t afford the rent. She sometimes stayed with her elderly mother, but their relationship was volatile and made for an unstable and unhealthy environment. She’d lost some of her belongings, including her ID, when someone broke into her car. She’d been diagnosed with both a physical disability and mild mental health disability, but couldn’t get her handicap placard or other assistance without her ID.
Many people call 211 call because they see one urgent issue they need help with, or they know they need help but don’t know where to start. Ms. Thomas called with a list of goals she was determined to achieve: get her ID and handicap placard, find housing, and find senior recreational activities to help with her mobility. As she and the Care Coordinator talked, however, she revealed that she had recently lost her husband, and was severely depressed and dealing with other mental health concerns.
Her Care Coordinator immediately started making arrangements and appointments: first things first – get her to DMV to get her an ID. Find a doctor and make an appointment for her disability paperwork. Get her into short-term stable housing while they applied for low income senior housing spots with long wait lists. Sign her up for bereavement counseling and yoga classes.
Some things took a lot of back and forth and follow up to address. Ms. Thomas was without dental care because Medi-Cal didn’t cover it and her income was considered too high for some programs. 211’s Care Coordinator found her a senior dental program with USC that has a sliding fee scale.
Finding long term stable housing was a challenge – the Care Coordinator called every low-income senior housing listed on the LA County housing resource center. There are a lot of requirements you have to meet to qualify for this housing, including some maximum income thresholds. Even though Ms. Thomas could not afford to pay full market rate for housing based on her income, the benefits she received from Social Security plus survivor benefits from her husband disqualified her from some programs. As of January she has been on 2 different wait lists for more than 4 months, with more than 30 people ahead of her. Both she and her Care Coordinator are hopeful that one new low-income senior housing facility, which has 1 open unit remaining, will approve her application very soon.
Ms. Thomas has now completed everything on her list except for the housing, and her Care Coordinator will keep working with her on that until she is settled into a hopefully permanent place of her own. She has made huge gains with her depression and mobility, and reconnected with her daughter and grandson now that she is in stable housing nearby them. She is anxiously awaiting her new permanent housing so she can throw a housewarming party for the first time, and invite her family, friends, and Care Coordinator to celebrate her life transition.
Like so many other people who have been through the system and come out to face the stigma and barriers, Ms. Thomas needed guidance, a second chance, and compassionate support and motivation to help her achieve her goals. She says she is so thankful to 211 LA and her Care Coordinator for being there to help her achieve them.