TAP helps people get back home; bus tickets, gas money available

Virginia Graziani

Redwood Times

Humboldt County’s Transportation Assistance Program (TAP) can help people who need to go home or who have jobs outside the county but no money to get there, but it does require contacting county social service workers and meeting some requirements.

Participants in SHWT’s Oct. general meeting last Wednesday heard a presentation about TAP by Paris Bauer, an administrative analyst with the county’s General Relief program.

TAP will provide bus tickets or money for gas, as well as $20 per day per person for meals while traveling, to persons whose cash on hand is less than $150, and "whose best opportunity for self-sufficiency exists out of the area," Bauer said.

Since TAP began almost five years ago, it has helped almost 900 people. In the last few months, several people in Southern Humboldt received TAP benefits.

"A lot of people come here, think they want to live here, and then find out that being alone in a strange place is scary, and they just want to go home," explained Debbie Schwartz, a Social Services eligibility worker.

Sometimes cars break down or travelers are robbed while in Humboldt and they need immediate help to get to their destination or to return home.

Other people find out about job opportunities in other locations and need a way of getting there. Schwartz said TAP recently sent three people to an out-of-area employer, who reported that he was very happy with their work and was keeping them on the job.

All adults with less than $150 in "liquid assets" may apply for the program. If they are traveling with their families, all the family members will be included.

Requirements are somewhat different for people who are on General Relief and those who are not.

Persons not on General Relief do not need to meet a residency requirement and they don’t need to reimburse the program.

Those on General Relief must meet a 15-day residency requirement, but that already is required for GR eligibility. GR recipients may be required to reimburse the TAP program through a lien placed on their benefits.

GR applicants can opt to withdraw their GR application and receive TAP benefits more quickly.

All applicants must complete an application and sign releases that will allow Social Services to verify their identity, income and resource levels, aid received from any other jurisdiction, and whether there are warrants for their arrest or they are considered "fleeing felons."

Also required is verification that family or friends will take them in and support them, or that they have a job with a start date at their intended destination. Social service workers will call the family or employer to confirm the information supplied by the applicant.

Applicants who need gas money to drive their own cars must also verify that they have a valid driver’s license, current registration, and proof of insurance.

Service dogs are allowed on Greyhound but pets are not, and TAP does not cover shipment of animals.

Once TAP recipients reach their destination, program workers will follow up with a phone call to make sure they are all right.

Each recipient will also be given a questionnaire with a pre-postage-paid envelope to help evaluate the program.

To apply for TAP, a person must contact Social Services in Garberville, and tickets are available for persons leaving from Garberville or Eureka. A person may receive TAP benefits only once every two years.

One SHWT participant told about a woman in a desperate situation who had to live on the streets for two days while waiting for her ticket, and asked if any help with shelter was available for applicants.

Aside from the county shelter in Eureka, which is open only in the winter, there are no resources for housing TAP applicants. "Every effort is made to [issue the benefits] as soon as possible, especially if there’s a crisis," Bauer said.

Since some of the SHWT participants were unfamiliar with the county’s General Relief benefits, Schwartz explained that GR provides a "grant" of up to $303 per month to qualified persons and confers eligibility for other programs, such as CalFresh (food stamps) and the County Medical Services Program (CMSP).

Depending on the GR recipient’s other resources, a $40 monthly co-pay may be deducted from the basic grant for CMSP if the person needs to use it. This leaves the recipient a maximum of $263.

A further 62 percent of the grant is deducted during the months the county shelter is open, regardless of whether or not the recipient uses the shelter, unless there are medical issues that prevent him or her from doing so.

This leaves the recipient approximately $100 in cash benefits, plus food stamps, which are not deducted, prompting the question of why a homeless person would stay in SoHum when so much of their GR goes to support the county shelter.

"A lot of people stay here even if they’re living under a tarp because they see SoHum as their home," replied SHWT secretary Kathy Epling, who has informally been assisting people in need for many years.

A person can be screened for GR eligibility at the Garberville Social Services office, but must go to the main office at 929 Koster Street in Eureka to be interviewed.

Since at least 15 days’ residency in Humboldt County is required, if the applicant has no other proof of residency, the day of first contact with Social Services becomes the first day of residency and the applicant meets the requirement two weeks and a day later.

In addition to the presentation and discussion, a few announcements were made by the SHWT participants.

Health educator and Redwood AIDS Information and Services activist Beth Wells announced that RAINS is continuing to sell raffle tickets for a beautiful Tibetan rug, tabling outside the Mateel Art Gallery on Fridays.

Piercy Animal Welfare Society founder Sydney King reminded everyone that PAWS still has vouchers available to help low-income people get their cats and dogs spayed or neutered. She can be reached at 247-3020.

Jim Gergits, operations manager for Redwoods Rural Health Center, announced that RRHC went "live" with its new electronic health records program on Oct. 4. RRHC is on a restricted appointment schedule for the next couple of weeks, allowing time for the staff to be trained on the new system but, "We will meet community needs," Gergits said.

Finally, Southern Humboldt Healthcare District administrator Harry Jasper, who is also the president of SHWT, announced that a promising candidate for the community-based physician position will be in SoHum to be interviewed and to tour the district on Oct. 31.

Jasper also reported that the hospital should have CT scanning services up and running by the end of the year. He added that the hospital is busier than it’s ever been, with four patients currently occupying acute hospital beds; "about three times normal occupancy," he said.

SHWT’s next general meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, Nov. 2, from noon to 1:30 p.m. at the Civic Club on Maple Lane in Garberville.