This is a guest post from the Outreach Team at Disability Benefits Help. They provide information about disability benefits and the application process. To learn more, please visit their website at http://www.disabilitybenefitscenter.org or contacti them at help@ssd-help.org.

Disability benefits from the Social Security Administration (SSA) make a tremendous difference in the lives of Americans with disabilities and their families. If you’re experiencing homelessness, these benefits can not only ensure you have a steady source of income, but may also help you get your own place and keep up with the rent.

Benefits include Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Dependent upon your work history and your current financial circumstances, you may qualify through both of these programs.

SSDI and SSI Benefit Eligibility

To qualify for SSI, you must have very limited income and other financial resources. Your odds of SSI approval are high as someone who is experiencing homelessness, though you must still meet the SSA other eligibility requirements. These include having a qualifying disability that will keep you from earning a substantial living for 12 months or longer.

SSDI benefits are for disabled workers who paid into the Social Security system through taxes. Provided you have worked in the past 10 years and you have sufficient work credits built up from paying Social Security taxes, you may additionally receive SSDI.

Challenges for Applicants Without a Fixed Address

  • Your Application Address – To file for benefits, you need a permanent address at which you can receive communications from the SSA. Any mailing address will suffice, as long as you can quickly and consistently receive notice that you’ve gotten mail from the SSA. Churches, shelters, social services offices, and family members are just a few options for how you can get your SSA notices.
  • Building Sufficient Medical Records – Benefit approval hinges on having appropriate medical documentation of your disability. For many people experiencing homelessness and other low-income applicants, financial restrictions may prevent regular doctor visits. Free clinics and other low cost or sliding scale medical facilities are one way to build your medical history. Just keep in mind that you need a doctor rather than a nurse practitioner as your primary healthcare provider. The SSA may also order consultative exams once you apply for benefits. A consultative exam can help fill in gaps in your medical history.
  • Benefit Payment Account – To receive payments through SSI and/or SSDI, you must have an account with a bank or sign up for a Direct Express debit card with the SSA, because all benefits are now transferred electronically each month. The staff at the local SSA office can help you apply for Direct Express. You can also sign up for direct deposit to a bank account or for a Direct Express card from any internet-connected computer.
Overcoming Hurdles in Applying for Benefits

You can submit your disability application online. If you’re living in a shelter or other transitional housing, you may or may not have access to the internet. Any internet-connected computer will do though, so you can even file from a social services office, a local church, a library computer, or with the help of a staff at the shelter in which you currently reside.

Social Security offices are located in all major cities and many smaller communities as well. You can walk in to any office to apply for benefits. Just be sure to let the SSA staff member that helps you know about your living situation. He or she can assist with navigating the application process and help you figure out how to overcome some of the unique challenges you’ll face.

For a list of Social Security offices in Massachusetts, please go to https://www.ssa.gov/boston/MA.htm.

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Christine s Story - House Bill 1129-page-001

Christine s Story - House Bill 1129-page-002

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A Poem by Christine Rene Ciulla

A thought on the way home... on the way, I guess. There are pauses, there are thoughts that race across our universe headed for a place to belong, in the light.

What can I say about the swirling rivers that have flowed within me…why I smile when it hurts most. Why I feel it bigger…at times this game of tug of war...I play with life, it is who I am.  It is feeling crowded by my own presence. Distance, the only direction my eyes can see.

A cast of shadows that play their part in memories that are best long forgotten. But words, sweet words still have a softness, a cushion when blackness needs a place to fall. Down upon itself...musically surrounded by feelings that feel when bland unaffected by color... a commonplace takes a turn.

I wish it was clearer; the line between the beauty of peace, and brutality of sadness... Though, it seems neither can exist without the other… they are partners. I like to imagine it that way. To think and question and gain perspective from yesterdays foot steps. It hurts in every muscle, places deeper than a person can tumble and as it gives way.

Then there are fountains of inspiration, days of faith, and poems flowing, from a beautiful watered garden. The sweet relief of emotion its like a sort of stardust…Neither is a place I could ever completely give my myself to... So I find the open spaces where life rushes in. 

The cold air of January on my cheeks. A walk through a path of trees. A sweater I wrap myself in. A catalog of sweet something’s that could very possibly get me through another day, on the street, so I save it all. Its tiny scraps of paper, a text I reread and smile. A hint of a smell. The tune of a guitar usually acoustic becomes the string around my finger that leads me back to remembering to open my eyes.

The path is the way, catching fireflies, catching a breath, catching a smile on the way to a home through another day. Its ups and downs rights and wrongs, the grays that come in between. It's maddening and miraculous. It’s my chance, my one chance at touching this life and leaving a mark. Some would say it a curse and a blessing -- I would have to agree.

By what is given by birth, by my standing. Is my heart… my legacy… it’s purity…The good guys winning. It is looking up, lasting, evolving and placing my hand on my heart, as its purposefully beating…

It goes on and on a kind of awkward little song. I'm fine with that. Because when I measure the very best people, I often feel, they too have a beat, though a bit different and I get to live my life in the company of them…Beating the odds.

A note about the author: Christine is a poet, mother, and advocate who has experienced homelessness and housing instability. She has been advocating for the expansion of the RAFT homelessness prevention program, along with the Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless. Read the Coalition's interview with Christine in Spare Change News here and testimony here on the bill of rights for people experiencing homelessness. To participate in the Coalition's current online action to legislators in support of expanding access to and funding for RAFT, please click here.

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When I read that we had been allotted $2 million [in the state budget, for housing and services for unaccompanied youth], I cried.

We have worked so long, with so many sleepless nights and tear-filled days, to get people to do something to support us. We have prepared speeches and wondered about all of the possible effects of our outreach, education, seminars, and presentations on both the presenters and audience. To be honest, in all of my travels, hitch hiking, and sleeping outside (I hate the word “homeless”), I have never felt more full of terror, wonder, anxiety and naked-full-frontal-in-your-face realness as when the thought "this might all be in vain” crossed my mind. “Things may never change and I have exposed myself to all these people" -- sometimes several hundred people – sometimes I didn’t think it was worth it.  

I cried when I heard the news because I can only imagine what this will mean to the teens and young adults who are at risk – who will now be able to see a significant change in services available to them.

This is one victory but it is not the end. We have much work to do with haste, diligence, and understanding.

I challenge you, the reader, to be bold, to make new friends, to try something new. I challenge you to be open, be fearless, and love like every person that walks into your life is a treasure -- unique and beautiful just like you. 

We are not an enemy.

We are houseless not homeless.

Together, we can keep this going.

This post was written by Synthia Kennedy, a 23-year old activist, advocate, traveler, adult entertainer, and dreamer. She first stayed on the streets when she was 13, and has since been to the entire continental US with plans of crossing even more borders. She calls everywhere she goes "home". She is a Youth Advisory Council Member for the Y2Y Shelter Initiative to open a new overnight shelter for young adults ages 18-24 in Cambridge, MA and has spent most of the last 12 years advocating for expanded rights, services, and support for youth experiencing homelessness as well as the LGBTQ community. Her motto is, "If I have felt scared and alone and in need of family and people to trust without fear of judgment -- then others have too." Her goal is to shed light in the dark places and to ensure anyone seeking safety and shelter has a place to do it. She believes although no one chose to be on this planet -or maybe you did- its our responsibility to care for the life on this planet. "You don't judge a flower for where or how it grows so why judge one that has two legs!" This post includes reflections on the release of the fiscal year 2016 budget by the Legislature. Click here for more details on the budget.

To learn more about Synthia, follow her on Instagram @Ladyswithpipes and Twitter @AmazonTG.

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