Rain Chamberlain, who identifies with the pronoun they / them, lives in a small stucco house in Fresno with their child and a roommate. Chamberlain’s workspace is tucked away in a corner of the living room.
“This is my office here,” they say as they sit down at the desk and begin a regular routine, logging into one of the many government websites they use to access assistance programs. .
“So if I were to go to ‘My Benefits, Calwin’,” they say, waiting for the page to load.
“Oh hey, guess what. The internet decided it wasn’t there, ”Chamberlain laughs.
It takes at least a minute to reconnect the laptop to Wi-Fi.
“That’s a lot,” Chamberlain said, concentrating on the screen.
It takes another 30 seconds for the website to load.
“And a lot of times, I’ll be multitasking. I’ll be working in other tabs while I wait for these items to load, ”Chamberlain says.
Chamberlain writes grants for nonprofit organizations, including one they just started on their own.
“You know, it’s not there yet, but it’s getting closer. I get to the point where I work pretty much full time, ”they say.
Chamberlain, who is a single parent, has also recently started taking online classes. But Chamberlain says one of the most time-consuming and stressful parts of their routine is keeping up with government assistance programs that are helping them get by.
“The housing authority, social assistance, the rehabilitation department, the telephone and the Internet are benefiting,” says Chamberlain, finally referring to the California LifeLine program.
Right now, they have four assistance programs and have applied for a fifth – utility assistance from the Fresno Emergency Rental Assistance Program.
Chamberlain is disabled and sometimes uses a wheelchair. And once COVID hit, their household lost jobs and income.
“Living in poverty usually means going through eight different crises simultaneously,” explains Chamberlain.
It’s like having another job to maintain program benefits.
“So there’s this expectation that from 7:00 am to at least 6:00 pm, you have to be available for any random phone calls, any random text, any random email,” Chamberlain explains.
They say they spend 10 to 60 hours a month keeping up to date with all the programs. They say a lot of the skills needed are financial.
“Bank statements and paypal records and everything to show all my itemized income,” Chamberlain says.
Chamberlain goes through a stack of papers in a trash can. There are 12 bins for each month of the past year. Chamberlain says it helped them sort through the paperwork to re-apply for the housing authority voucher, which is key to lowering the cost of their monthly rent.
“I have to be the one to sit there and professionally make sure it all adds up,” Chamberlain said, flipping through the papers.
Chamberlain says it took about 60 hours over a three month period to complete this app. Before COVID, recipients could schedule appointments to help fill out forms. But everything changed very suddenly.
“Even the desks that they are still there, even though the workers themselves will still go to work every day, that doesn’t mean beneficiaries can enter,” Chamberlain says.
They say browsing can be overwhelming for some of the most vulnerable populations, especially when reliable internet access and often a printer or scanner are needed.
“People who have been disenfranchised, who have multiple marginalizations, all these different things absolutely need to be part of these programs. And the punishment, the pretty literal punishment if you don’t, is homelessness and often death, ”Chamberlain says.
That’s why Chamberlain created a non-profit organization. It’s called Navigating Structures and now has 501c3 status.
“This is by and for people who fit into both the crossroads of disability and chronic homelessness or at chronic risk of homelessness,” Chamberlain said.
It was designed from Chamberlain’s own experiences in and out of homelessness. The goal is to build a stronger community by paying homeless people to work on their own passions, whether it’s fixing bikes or cooking. At present, Chamberlain is still seeking grants to fund the organization.
“We can have the time and the energy to really invest in our community, without having to worry about where that next paycheck comes from,” Chamberlain said.
Although Chamberlain is not yet making any money in this phase of the nonprofit organization, they are hopeful that this effort will pay off in the future.