Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Unintended Consequences of Well Meaning People

I make $24,000 a year before taxes. In Monterey County a person needs to make around $34,000 to be considered "Low Income", and that makes me "Poor". I'm not complaining, I made a series of bad life choices that kept me in poor paying jobs that had no future. Today I am taking classes at the local junior college with an eye on a degree, and I hope to be able to finally have a job where I take home at least $2000 a month.

That said, in the last few years after I had been injured I found myself in "The System" of employment aid, various state and federal programs that are designed to help "The Poor". For the most part they were beneficial to me; I received an education in computers, and I managed to get an assistance check whenever I was desperate. That system was the "One Stop" employment assistance program that the state of California runs, and if you are out of work I recommend that you give them a shot. However the real story that I want to tell you about is a little incident that happened to us about three years ago this coming December.

I live in a mobile home with my mother, who is partially disabled, and my younger adult brother who is almost completely disabled. My mother lives on $1000 per month pension, and some money she makes from a part time job. Her rent is $1200 a month, which I help out with. She also has a mortgage payment. So we don't have extra money for things. If something breaks it is up to me to fix it. If I can't fix it, it stays broken. We had some serious water damage that had lead to floors collapsing, and I know nothing about repairing floors. My mother was discussing our home problems with a friend of hers from church, and she came over to see for herself. She decided to "Help us out"; she rented rooms to men who work in construction, and she arranged for them to come over and fix our floor. Great, right? Initially, yes it was great, the guys came over and showed me how to fix stuff as they replaced the damaged segments of flooring. My mom also arranged for a former plumber come over and coach me through installing a new toilet.
Had this stopped with the new flooring everything would have been great, but this woman friend decided that since we were getting new floors that we should get new carpet as well. There was a charitable program through the church that would give us new carpeting for free. Sounded cool, BUT then she decided to push for new linoleum too. So I find myself tearing out the old linoleum in the entire house, and then hauling it to the dump at my own expense. In fact, there was a growing tab on my dime for this "Charitable" operation. I had to buy paint, because this woman decided that since we were getting new carpet that we should repaint everything too. Since I am disabled I had to buy special polls for the paint rollers. Then some electricians show up and I find out that I'm paying them $400 too. Then we need more plywood, so I go and buy four more sheets. Since this is my home, I buy the best stuff because good wood lasts longer than cheap wood.
Then the carpet guys come, and for some reason the lady has them only carpet HALF of the living room. They tell us they will return once the lady has made up her mind. Also, they cannot put linoleum over the cheap plywood floor that the guys had initially used. So we would need to tear out the floors completely. An argument broke out between the lady and my mother because this was all too much for her. My mother is in a pre-leukemia stage, and stress can push her into full-on cancer, and this haphazard remodel job was killer her. So the lady just stopped everything.
So half of our living room had a carpet, the rest is covered by carpet remnant that my brother scrounged. Our kitchen and bathroom floors are bare wood. This charity ended up costing me around $1,500 which is on my Visa card. My mother is now gun shy about accepting any help from anybody, and I can't say that I blame her.

So I guess there are a couple of messages that I hope you take away from this story. If you are receiving some kind of help, don't be afraid to ask question first. Make sure the project is defined in advance and then stick to it. Make sure that the people involved actually know what they are doing. Make sure that you have your own set of contact numbers of all the people who are helping you out in case the leader quits. Help out as much as you can so that you can learn to repair things on your own. People who are kind enough to help out those in need should understand that while those folks are grateful they will feel bad about receiving help. So pushing them around will only make them feel worse about themselves, and if you have done that you aren't really helping anyone are you?