By Marilyn Montenegro
“Will I have enough money to live on?” asks Julie, a fragile 60-year-old woman with chronic debilitating illnesses, who was recently released from prison after a lengthy sentence.
She is asking me if she will be able to survive on $866 a month (her SSI benefit) when she leaves the reentry program. What can I say to this wounded, fearful woman? Spending the recommended 50 percent of her income for rent, $433 a month, will not be enough for a studio apartment or even a room.
My strength-based perspective, combined with motivational interviewing techniques, doesn’t help me to identify affordable housing for my client. She does not qualify for housing programs available to high utilizers of mental health services or those in homeless shelters. Her status as a parolee bars her from most federally funded housing.
Focusing on clinical skills (CBT, MI) trivializes Julie’s concerns. Focusing on clinical skills trivializes the mission of social work. No matter the degree of motivation or commitment to behavioral change, the reality of high costs, limited resources and artificial barriers remains.
I decide to tell Julie the truth, in spite of my fear of increasing her sense of hopelessness, my frustration at my lack of access to tangible resources and my fury at a system that callously condemns my clients to dismal half-lives.
The Women’s Council discusses a variety of similar practice and advocacy issues at its bi-monthly meetings held in the greater Los Angeles area. For more information, please call (800) 538-2565, ext. 57, or email firstname.lastname@example.org or mujerista@All2Easy.net.