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Letter: Homeless family finds little help

In Holbrook, people stand in line for a

In Holbrook, people stand in line for a bag of groceries from the food pantry at Calvary Chapel Island of Grace, after which they can have a hot meal. Photo Credit: Heather Walsh, 2011

I read with interest the letter regarding a homeless stigma ["Homeless stigma persists," Jan. 3]. My 3-year-old son and I were recently homeless for five weeks, and it was a completely demoralizing experience.

I am a middle-aged woman who lost my civil service job and then my housing. Civil service would not help me, and I was twice turned down for unemployment payments.

My son and I stayed with friends as long as we could, and then three days before Thanksgiving, with nowhere to go, I did the very thing I dreaded and had tried for three months to avoid -- I went to the Suffolk County Department of Social Services for help.

There is something surreal and horrific about seeing the word "homeless" stamped by your name on an emergency form. My son and I were placed in a shelter. A case worker created a housing budget for us, and I was told I was approved for Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, food stamps and the Small Housing Authority Reform Proposal program emergency housing money. I was so relieved, I cried.

I found a job within a week, at half the pay I earned before. I kept a log of 30 phone calls I made each week to prospective landlords, trying to find one who would accept the housing program. I found one in about 120 calls.

I then received a call from my case worker saying DSS denied me the housing program and terminated my food stamps. The case worker said DSS believed I should be able to afford food living in the shelter.

It was clear that once I got a job, I would be disqualified from getting any help with housing or food stamps.

I have been a taxpayer for more than 20 years, I grew up on Long Island, and the one time I fell on hard times, I could not get help for more than a month. In desperation, I posted my story on Facebook, and a longtime friend's mom opened her home to me and my son.

Nobody wants to be homeless and dealing with Social Services. The agency makes an already horrendous situation unbearable.

Christine Lovell-Fielding, Lake Ronkonkoma