Making the cut – Who gets help?
Paula Lambdin works every day with the reality that there are limited resources in paradise.
As program coordinator for El Dorado County’s Department of Community Services, Lambdin is in charge of screening people for many of the service programs available at the lake. The people in need outnumber the resources.
Dreams of living the good life at Lake Tahoe turn to disillusionment and desperation for many when they realize jobs are sometimes hard to find and, when they are available, the pay is low. The lure of quick riches at casinos also may lead many people to Lambdin’s office.
From Section 8 housing to emergency food assistance, Lambdin has to say “no” more than she says “yes.”
“I have to make judgment calls all the time and it’s hard,” Lambdin said. “We have a pretty caring community up here, but we have to be careful. It would be real easy to give it all away in a month.”
The federal Section 8 program pays a portion of a family’s monthly rent based on their family size and income. Families who qualify use more than half their monthly income to pay rent. The waiting list is long because many people are eligible for assistance.
“We’re still assisting people off of the 1995 waiting list,” Lambdin admitted. “We opened up again in October and November for the first time in three years and we got 175 applications from eligible households.”
The waiting list is also arranged in order of need, Lambdin explained, so people could continually be bumped by more dire cases.
“Half of the people on the program are seniors. Half are single-parent, head-of-household cases,” Lambdin said. “We have very few (two working parent families). We push them to self-sufficiency.”
And there is no place for the homeless in paradise.
The summer months draw homeless people to South Shore, but when winter comes, there is no place for them.
“We don’t have homeless emergency assistance here,” Lambdin said. “We have people who come up here with unrealistic expectations. Transients come here because they see the marketing programs. I always know when one of the chambers has launched a big marketing program or placed ads because we see an increase in the number of single, homeless males. In the summertime, the campgrounds have been really good. The nearest shelter is in Carson City or Sacramento. The most I can do is get them transportation to other places where there are services.”
Lambdin is also in charge of South Shore’s extension office of the Salvation Army. The charitable organization fills a need that isn’t available from any other local government agency. The money comes from local churches.
“I can help people with emergency medical prescriptions, emergency shelter for stranded families. I also give out gas vouchers, but not for local travel. The gas assistance is for allowing people access to services elsewhere.”
Lambdin said many times the hard luck stories aren’t true and she admits she’s been taken in more than once.
“The money is entrusted to me to give out to people in genuine need, not the first person who comes into my office and asks for it. We aren’t here to fund people’s vacations or continue a bad cycle of behavior. I force people to look at how they got to this point and then formulate a plan of action so it doesn’t happen again,” Lambdin said.
Many programs fall under the umbrella of Community Services. The WIC or Woman Infant Children nutritional services program for pregnant or breast-feeding women and children under the age of 5 is one example. The service is for low-income families. It provides nutrition training and assistance in buying nutritionally sound meals. Lambdin said the program saves the community money through prevention.
Area Transit Management offers reduced-cost rides to low income seniors and disabled adults. The program, started in 1991, is county funded. Lambdin is in charge of the eligibility screening. Recipients must meet the federal poverty guidelines with an income under $1,700 a month for one person.
Maxine Walker, 80, said she uses the service when her car is unavailable or when the weather makes it hard for her to get out.
“The drivers are always very courteous,” Walker said. “Without it, some days it would be hard to get around.”
Ken Daley, general manager of Area Transit Management, said the program averages 300 participants a month. With a card, people can ride the STAGE bus, a fixed route service, for 25 cents. The demand-respond service on Bus Plus and para-transit is a dollar each way, after qualifying. People have to schedule rides 24 hours in advance, and the service isn’t available on the weekends.
Walker said scheduling ahead isn’t a problem when she knows she’s going to need a ride. Walker is more knowledgeable than most on the programs offered through Community Services. She’s been a volunteer in the office for more than two years. She also qualified for the energy assistance program which helps low-income people pay their gas, electrical and water service bills.
“I just had social security and when you’re on a fixed income it can be hard,” Walker said.
Residents can also get help through the federal emergency food assistance program. The surplus food is distributed once a month. To qualify, people need proof of residency and income. Individuals can only receive one distribution a month.
For more information on any of these programs call the Department of Community Services at (530) 573-3490.
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