Attorney helps people with disabilities apply for assistance
Changes in program names, eligibility requirements and application processes confuse and frustrate people with mental and physical disabilities as they seek to access the support they need. So some give up.
Rose Wear provides pro bono assistance at four locations.
Spokane attorney Rose Wear has brought the Homeless Outreach Providing Empowerment (HOPE) program to Spokane to assist people applying for Social Security’s Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) applications.
She works for Chihak & Associates, a disability law firm with offices in Spokane and Seattle. It began the pro bono HOPE program four years ago.
“Many people I work with suffer physical or mental health impairments. Given that applying for Social Security can take nearly two hours, many are simply unable to apply on their own,” Rose said. “They can hit a question, become disoriented and give up unless someone helps them.”
Rose helps people apply for benefits if there is a question about the status of their claim or they are denied. She helps do follow up and appeals.
The State Disability Assistance has now changed from being called General Assistance-Unemployable to ABD for Aged, Blind and Disabled.
Rose said the short-term, stopgap state DSHS programs are for people applying for or waiting to be accepted on Social Security or SSI. They provide $197 a month. People who do not apply, miss a step or do not complete the application process can lose that assistance and medical coverage.
“It takes four to six weeks to be approved for state benefits, but three to 18 months to be approved for Social Security,” said Rose, who began working for Chihak & Associates in Spokane last April.
She has office hours at Women’s Hearth, 920 W. Second; House of Charity, 32 W. Pacific; Spokane Valley Partners, 10814 E. Broadway, and her office at 505 W. Riverside, Suite 506.
At the agencies where she assists people, the protocol differs.
At House of Charity, a shelter for homeless men, people sign up beginning at 7:30 a.m. Some days she sees three and other days 12.
At the Women’s Hearth, a women’s drop-in center downtown, she maintains an appointment list with the assistance of staff.
At Spokane Valley Partners, a multi-service center, people drop by to see her when they come for food, clothing or other assistance.
She also does trainings for social service and medical providers in Spokane, Yakima and Wenatchee to help them understand the system and know what is helpful and what is harmful to put in applicants’ health notes.
She is also will train congregations and community groups, tailoring sessions to their needs.
Rose, who grew up Catholic in Coeur d’Alene, completed a degree in political science in 2005 at Gonzaga University and graduated from the Gonzaga Law School in 2009.
“I wanted to help people and chose to do it through law,” she said. “Despite some negative images of lawyers, we can do good through cases that can change the world for the better.”
From 2010 to June 2012, she worked on the state’s Unemployment Law Project before starting with Chihak and Associates.
“John Chihak is committed to public service law and wants to help people, so the Seattle office includes a full-time social worker,” Rose said.
“My parents taught me to be grateful for what I have,” she said. “I believe that, when we are given resources or opportunities that others don’t have, we have an obligation to help people who are less fortunate.”
She has helped some clients receive benefits in three months and find stable housing. One woman was able to have surgery she needed.
Those who are denied know they can come back, and Rose will help them appeal, so they are less likely to give up. The program also provides referrals to social services for non-disability needs.
Through the Spokane Valley Lawyers Program and the Spokane County Bar Association, she helps match people with attorneys who will help them for free.
Rose listed several legal assistance programs in Spokane:
1) Justice Night from 5 to 7 p.m., first Tuesdays in the Community Building lobby, 35 W. Main Ave., gives free legal advice and referrals on many issues.
2) Volunteer Lawyer’s Program attorneys help people on non-criminal legal needs. Clients can call from 1 to 5 p.m., Mondays and Thursdays at 324-0144.
3) CLEAR is a nonprofit legal referral and advice service available from 9:10 a.m. to 12:25 p.m., weekdays at 888-201-1014.
4) Gonzaga Law School’s Legal Assistance Clinic serves low-income people older than 60. It can be reached at 313-5791.
Some just need to know what steps to take. Others need support through the whole process.
“It takes a village to help people navigate through the system of multiple providers. It’s refreshing to see the collaboration of agencies,” said Rose.
She has learned that because law is open to interpretation, it involves counseling people.
“I thought I had decided not to be a counselor,” she said, “but to do this work, I need to listen to people to help them find the resources they need.”
GU Law School program offers low-cost family law assistance
A new Gonzaga University School of Law program provides low-cost family law help as 12 students partner with attorneys from the Spokane County Bar’s Volunteer Lawyers Program. With family law one of the highest demand areas, the volunteer lawyers program assists with hundreds of cases each year.
Family Law Attorney and Student Help (FLASH) is a pilot program launched this year by Gonzaga’s Center for Law In Public Service (CLIPS) to offer pro bono legal assistance while giving law students hands-on training in an often overlooked area of law.
The program increases the availability of free or low-cost family law, said Matt Fischer, an attorney who leads student-training sessions while students work with cases that impact the community.
“The students’ commitment to increasing access to justice early in their careers positions them well as they transition into the practice,” said Catherine Brown, director of the CLIPS program.
Individuals needing help from the Volunteer Lawyers Program apply through the Northwest Justice Project’s intake and referral service (CLEAR).
For information, call 313-3771 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
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