The need that CalFresh addresses is providing finances for people with low-income who meet federal eligibility, adding to their budget for groceries. Although people in Sonoma County who receive food assistance come from all backgrounds, as a homeless navigator with Catholic Charities Diocese of Santa Rosa, the population that I primarily serve are those experiencing homelessness. The cost of living in Sonoma County is high, making it extremely challenging for those experiencing homelessness to afford a place to rent. Therefore, the financial support that CalFresh provides helps such people to buy food.
I met a client in April 2022 at the hospital’s Emergency Department. He’d been living in his truck and was picked up for public intoxication. I discovered that he had MediCal, but no income or food stamps; so, I asked if he’d like to apply for CalFresh and General Assistance. He turned down cash aid but showed interest for obtaining an EBT card. I asked him what he’d been doing for money, and he told me that he’d been panhandling to buy what he needed, adding that drinking helped him to keep warm. In addressing his homelessness, I offered to enroll him in Coordinated Entry for shelter opportunities and to assist him apply for CalFresh. He was receptive to both, and as a result, not only was he accepted to Catholic Charities’ medical respite from the ED, after staying there for 3 weeks, he was admitted to a 6-month shelter stay. I was able to confirm via CalWIN that his approval date for CalFresh began on the day that I had helped him with the application. I saw him again in September at the hospital. He apologized for having “fallen off of the wagon;” so, I assured him that as a homeless navigator, I understand that recovery is a gradual process, and that it’s my responsibility to consistently offer options and services that will meet his needs and to promote success. I confirmed that his bunk at the shelter was available for him to return after discharge. Securing a bunk at shelters can oftentimes be a barrier to my work because the spread of COVID has caused frequent pauses for admission, making it challenging to locate a place for people to sleep indoors. I was happy to hear that he wanted to apply for cash aid; so, I pulled out a GA application and completed it with him. Fortunately, unlike many of the people that I assist, he has a cell phone and a place to get mail. After work, I took his application to the drop box at the County office. Also, I was able to complete the CalFresh SAR7 that had come due for him.
As a service provider, the most important aspect of the job is cultivating trust with people experiencing homelessness. I believe that if people cannot trust me while they’re at their worst, they won’t trust me when they’re doing better. This philosophy makes the work successful. And my job isn’t done in isolation; it takes working with others to effectively meet the needs of those financially challenged and experiencing homelessness. Although meeting with somebody who has been admitted to the hospital isn’t generally under the best of circumstances, in this case, the client benefitted from completing his SAR7 and applying for GA with me. The online ease of completing the required applications for CalFresh helps me connect people to services as soon as possible, without the barrier of having to reschedule a meeting in the future, which, unfortunately, with the population that I serve often proves unfruitful. I reminded the participant that I’m only a phone call away and that I’m here to support his future success. I’m grateful for programs like CalFresh because without such financial support, people’s money problems for obtaining healthy food would be even more dismal. I’m also happy that I can help such people connect to human services that give them help and hope.