Percy Watson - "Living Like a King" after legal assistance removed barriers to housing
Percy Watson’s story is a testimonial to what solid legal assistance can do to remove barriers to housing for the homeless.
When Percy first approached Greater Bakersfield Legal Assistance (GBLA) in July 2009, he was seeking help through the agency’s Community Homeless Law Center Project (CHLCP). Percy was 62 years old, chronically homeless and living in an abandoned warehouse.
Here’s where GBLA's solid legal advocacy stepped in to save the day.
Step One: Assess the Issue
Percy was concerned because his State Disability was going to be discontinued. GBLA later learned that he used to be on Supplemental Security Income (SSI), but he became ineligible to continue receiving benefits in 2003 due to a warrant for a failure to appear on a criminal case in Oregon from 1993.
Step Two: Research
On September 24, 2009, the United States District Court in the Northern District of California approved a nationwide class action settlement agreement in the case of Martinez v. Astrue. The Martinez settlement changes the types of felony arrest warrants that are used to prohibit payment of Social Security, SSI, and Special Veterans benefits.
Step Three: Advocacy
GBLA contacted the District Attorney’s Office in Oregon about the warrant against Percy for his failure to appear and, through their advocacy, the DA agreed to dismiss the case.
Step Four: Follow Through
After investigating his claim, GBLA advised him to apply for Social Security Retirement benefits and Supplemental Security Income as a class member to the Martinez Settlement class action. He applied for both and started to get early retirement benefits; however, his SSI benefits application was denied.
Step Five: Remove Additional Roadblocks
The reason the Social Security Administration denied him initially was because they did not consider him disabled enough to keep from pursuing full-time work. GBLA agreed to represent him and filed two appeals on his behalf. The claim moved up the judicial system to the hearing level, and CHLCP Staff Attorney Neda Mashayekhi represented Percy at his hearing before an administrative law judge. While waiting for the hearing date, the project’s Case Manager, Ana Vigil, ensured that the client was seeking medical treatment. Ultimately, the medical expert and judge agreed to the attorney’s argument that his physical impairments limited him from maintaining employment. The judge issued a fully favorable decision. As a Martinez Settlement class member, he began receiving retroactive benefits from April 2009.
Step Six: Network
GBLA also referred Percy to partner agency Independent Living Center of Kern County, which helped him get qualified for the Shelter Plus Care Voucher Program, which sets a limit to how much a person has to pay for housing so that it stays affordable based on their income—including income from benefits.
Step Seven: Share
GBLA hopes this success story inspires others dealing with barriers to housing for homeless persons. Percy plans to either go back to school to gain higher education or apply to be a school crossing guard. For now, he is renting a house and, as he says, “living like a king.”
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