Countywide : Homeless Get Help in Applying for Aid

Many of the 30 homeless people who were at Pioneer Park in Garden Grove on Thursday had been unaware that help for them might be available from the federal government.

Those who did never tried or didn’t know how to cut through a mound of paperwork required to collect Social Security and other federal benefits.

But on Thursday they had reason to try. Each was paired at the park with Legal Aid Society and Project Dignity volunteers, hopeful that the involvement of trained lawyers, paralegals, doctors and others would help.


The volunteers grilled the homeless people with application questions covering everything from their work histories to the names of their parents. It took hours, but some believed it would be worth it.

“It’s better than nothing,” said Joe Trevarthen, 56, who has been out of regular work for five years. “I didn’t even know they had this. Anything is hopeful.”

The homeless men and women had been interviewed beforehand to determine whether they might qualify for the benefits because some forms of disability prevent them from being employed.

Legal Aid Society and Project Dignity volunteers were trained in filling out the paperwork, and they told the homeless to be at the park to fill out their applications.

“The program is terribly underfunded and it puts the Social Security staff in a tough situation,” said Bob Cohen, a staff member of Legal Aid who coordinated the program. “They don’t have the staff for outreach programs like this.”

Their wait could be long: It could be seven months to a year before they see a check or find out that they are denied assistance. Legal Aid held a similar program two months ago in Santa Ana, but the 11 homeless people who applied have yet to see results.

Frank Williams, 56, struggled to recount his job history. The volunteer waited patiently as he recalled working at a chemical company before he lost his job in 1981.

“I lost my car. I lost my girlfriend. Then I lost my job,” Williams said. “It’s very troublesome. I went in the jailhouse. That’s the system.”

The homeless were given physical or mental health checkups that will serve as documentation to prove they have disabilities. Some admitted that they are alcoholics or drug addicts.

“Some of them are very difficult to track down,” said Mirel Sinclair, branch manager of the Social Security Administration office in Garden Grove. “Some of them don’t want assistance, but a lot of them do and don’t know how to go about getting it.”

The government required those who filled out the applications to have an address. All put down the home of Mardi Reynolds, a Garden Grove resident who feeds the homeless at the park every week.

“I should contact the post office,” Reynolds said. “My mailbox isn’t that big. . . . But these people need an address. Where are they going to go?”

Volunteers also hope to advise those who do get checks on how to handle the money. Often the government will send their assistance in one lump sum.

“I knew someone who got $9,000 in January,” said Jere Witter, a staff member of Legal Aid. “The next month I saw him and he was talking out of the back of his jaw he was so primed with cocaine. We try to tell them that’s the danger.”