Program Spotlight: The Client Advocacy Project

By Lindsey Davis

Hector Ruiz drove a bread truck in the South Bronx. Barely a year after they emigrated from Puerto Rico so his wife could get better medical care, she passed away. Mr. Ruiz was alone and rapidly plunging into the depths of a depression that had plagued him since he was a boy. After missing one too many days of work due to his illness, he lost his job. In six weeks, his savings ran out. Four months later, he was on the street. Mr. Ruiz eventually found his way to an overburdened and understaffed emergency shelter in Brooklyn where he, like many of his fellow shelter residents, languished without proper services and advocacy. Upon entering the shelter he was sent from one Case Manager to another due to high turnover. Psychiatric care and follow-up was spotty at best. There was almost no help with Public Assistance, and Mr. Ruiz’s depression was disabling. That’s where the Client Advocacy Project comes in.

The CAP is the only program of its kind in New York City to provide intensive case management to the most vulnerable of the underserved – street homeless and sheltered single adults with severe mental illness (SMI), physical disabilities, and chronic illnesses. Many of these individuals also struggle with substance use issues or cognitive and developmental disabilities. The support we provided Mr. Ruiz and others like him is geared toward two primary goals: securing federal disability benefits (SSD/SSI), and helping them move off the streets or out of shelter and into appropriate supportive housing where they can receive the stability they need and deserve.

In the five years ending August 2010, the Client Advocacy Program has secured federal disability benefits for 75 percent of all those who filed an initial application. Of the remaining 25 percent who were initially denied, 75 percent were later approved on appeal. Our success was achieved in partnership with the Legal Aid Society whose attorneys offer expert legal representation for our clients demonstrating that our clients are, in fact, disabled and deserving of lifelong benefits. All told, our success rate for achieving benefits on initial application or appeal is upwards of 90 percent! This is more than double the statewide average. The assistance the CAP provides is unparalleled – it is simply not available anywhere else.

It took Mr. Ruiz over a year to come and meet with us after a friend had told him what help was available. The level of distrust he had developed as a result of past experiences with nearly all systems he had encountered was completely debilitating. What makes CAP unique is its offer of not only expert concrete advice and representation, but also a welcoming, supportive environment where clients can feel respected, heard, and empowered to participate in the process of receiving benefits and permanent housing. With his faith in our staff, hard work, and dedication, Mr. Ruiz was awarded the maximum disability benefit available. Best of all, these benefits allowed him to secure an apartment of his own, a place he now calls home. We are honored that Mr. Ruiz, and all of our clients, have trusted us to help them restore their health and well being.