When Onondaga County Adult Protective Services was asked what to do about the homeless old man on the sidewalk in front of my apartment building, they said, “Send him to the second floor of the Civic Center.” That is the intake unit of the Dept. of Social Services (DSS). It is where you go to apply for Welfare, Food Stamps and other government assistance. It consists of a large waiting room and long lines.
The people who clog the waiting area include babies crying in strollers, toddlers running around screaming, young mothers talking on cell phones and yelling at their kids, sullen young men standing against the wall, and a variety of middle-aged and older people. These young women got pregnant without benefit of marriage, and the young men left high school without diplomas and now can’t get jobs, and the other people who—for a time—worked and had earned income but now have become unemployable. All day, every day, they come to the second floor of the Civic Center to ask their neighbors—the taxpayers—to support them because they can’t support themselves.
These people are all suffering some degree of fear, desperation and humiliation, which many of them cover up with defiance, belligerence and anger. There is a major police presence on “the second floor of the Civic Center”—and why does Adult Protective call it that? Why don’t they call it what it is, “Social Services Intake?” And how long do you think the old man on the sidewalk will last in a crowd of healthy young people who are aggressively pushing to the front of the line?
So I told the manager I would make some phone calls to find some better alternatives for Mike. My first call was to Adult Protective Services (APS), where I requested and got a supervisor. The in-house social worker had already talked to a front-line APS worker and was following her directive; I was kicking it up a notch. The APS supervisor said the old man on the sidewalk should be sent either to the Rescue Mission, an Emergency Room, or “the second floor of the Civic Center.”
Now here’s what makes me sick: Adult Protective Services, which is part of the Dept. of Social Services, is on the fifth floor of the Civic Center. Their objective “is to keep individuals over the age of 18 safe from harm due to their own inability to care for themselves or because of neglect or abuse by others . . . workers collaborate with other community agencies that could provide needed services. They also assist individuals . . . in obtaining:
• entitlement programs (Medicaid, Social Security, SSI, Food Stamps)
• medical care
• home care, and if necessary admission to assisted living programs, adult homes, skilled
nursing facilities and mental health facilities
APS is divided into a APS Intake unit, two generic units for ongoing APS services and a specialized Elder Abuse Unit for ongoing services to individuals who are 60 or older and are being abused or neglected by others.
Eligibility- 18 years or older with all 3 of the following characteristics:
• a mental or physical disability
• the individual is at risk of harm either by their own or others’ actions and
• the individual has no one willing or able to responsibly assist.
My question is, “Since Adult Protective is on the fifth floor of the Civic Center, and they provide assistance to adults applying for Food Stamps, etc., on the second floor, then why didn’t they say, ‘Send him to us and we’ll walk him through DSS Intake on the second floor?'”
Between 85 and 93 percent of all communication is nonverbal. Why didn’t Adult Protective come out to see the old man on the sidewalk and interview him? Why did they refuse to get the message?
Why didn’t Adult Protective even ask to talk to the homeless adult?
How is it humanly possible for a DSS-Adult Protective supervisor to so quickly and easily blow off an old man who needs help? The supervisor spoke in a flat monotone: should we consider the possibility that she was not human? She was a Civil Servant in DSS.
If Adult Protective Services does absolutely nothing for an adult in need of protection then what are we paying them for? Why are they allowed to exist?
I am absolutely incensed at the level of disregard that this supervisor has for a human being who is in need of shelter, and clearly—if you just look at him—cannot fend for himself either at the Rescue Mission or the second floor of the Civic Center, so I hop in my wheelchair and go downstairs. The manager—who has eyes that see—agrees with me and therefore cancels the taxi that was ordered to take the man downtown.
I take the man into the Community Room and we start to talk. He speaks very softly and in short phrases, but he answers all questions simply and directly. He tells me about being in the Navy and “going to school a lot.” This is said with a small smile whose nuances are fully understood by me: Mike has a doctorate, which cost him nine years of higher education; my family has spent a total of thirty-two years on higher education. Believe me, I understand the little smile that accompanies “going to school a lot.”
When I ask Mike about his health, he answers me directly: he has an ostomy, i.e., a surgical opening for waste to be excreted into an external bag; he has high blood pressure; the large black mass on his ear is cancer; he has diabetes. In fact, he got sick on the train from Florida and was ambulanced to a hospital in Georgia with a glucose level of 400 (it should be 100). He has not had any of his medicines for two days.
Do you think that if Adult Protective Services had done their bloody job and interviewed Mike then they might have seen a need for medical care instead of telling him to stand in line and apply for Welfare?