Observation Participant Observing the Caseworkers Implementing the Welfare System in their Work Station

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ObservationParticipant: Observing the Caseworkers Implementing the WelfareSystem in their Work Station

ObservationParticipant: Observing the Caseworkers Implementing the WelfareSystem in their Work Station

Inthe current challenging economy, poverty and lack of affordablehousing are being considered as the major cause of homelessness.Statistics show that the number of poor people has increased over theyears with 35.2% being children below the age of 18 years. Some ofthe contributing factors to the increased poverty and lack ofadequate housing include loss of benefits, unstable employment, andthe decline in wages and the changes in the welfare programs (HousingAssistance,2017). Other factors that contribute to homeless families includedomestic violence and a shortage of housing options. However, thewelfare caseloads have decreased following the implementation of thewelfare legislation, meaning that only a few people can access thewelfare programs and not that they are doing great financially. Thesefindings made me research on and observe how the process ofregistering to receive welfare benefits is conducted, and therequirements. I also got interested in finding out whether thecaseworkers do a proper background check to prove eligibility for oneto qualify for the welfare program. The following are the field noteswhich I jotted after observing and being interviewed by thecaseworkers to assess and determine the needs of their clients. Forthe purpose of anonymity, letters I used letters to refer to objectsand persons involved in the research. The observation took placebetween 10.30 A.M to 1.00 P.M on 24thMarch 2017 at the Housing Authority of Bayonne, offering HousingWelfare Program Assistance in New Jersey.

Iwalked into the station and presented myself as a homeless individualseeking for assistance. The security officer at the gate directed meto a waiting room where people were waiting for a needs assessment bythe caseworkers in the station. The place was very noisy and chaotic.People were called in the assessment room one after the other by thecaseworker. There were close to 50 persons in the room who werewaiting to be served. The majority of the participants were elderlymen and women with kids less than three years old.

AsI was waiting for my turn, I had conversations with some of mycolleagues in the waiting room. The first individual I hadconversations with was a teenage boy of about 15 years old. We sharedour stories. He told me that he has been in the streets for the pastone year after his parents passed away in a road accident. “I havebeen living in the streets, migrating from one town to another andsleeping outside kiosks after I lost both my parents from a caraccident a year ago. I dropped out of school and started doing oddjobs to make ends meet, but I am almost giving up in life. I havejust come here to try my luck if I would get assistance to find aplace to live.” As we were talking, I noticed he had hair was veryuntidy, and I could feel some funny smell coming from the boy.

Ialso had an opportunity to talk to one individual who had beeninterviewed by the case workers and was not successful. I asked her.“Why were you denied the welfare assistance?” They told me thatmy case does not need support. I am a widowed mother with three kids,but I am not able to meet their upkeep because I do laundry for myneighbors to earn a living. I have been given a letter which statesthat I do not qualify for the Housing Assistance welfare program forhousing program even though I lost my husband. The letter stated thatI am not homeless because my husband left a three bedroom house hehad bought before he lost his job.” She replied. The HousingWelfare Program is administered by the Department of Housing andUrban Development (HUD). The major housing welfare program is theHousing Choice Voucher Program, which is a voucher run by the localPublic Housing Agencies (PHA) (HousingAssistance,2017). This voucher is determined based on the standard rental forthe locality and is lowered by the participation amount per family.The family’s participation amount totals 30 percent of the monthlyincome of the particular family. It implies that the program limits afamily’s rental expenditure by 30 percent of their incomes fromoutside. To qualify for this program, a tenant’s income must bebelow 50 percent of the median income for the metropolitan region(HousingAssistance,2017). In case one qualifies and passes the assessment, then he isfree to choose the place of his choice to reside so long as theresidential house meets the health and safety standards required byHUD. After the lease has been signed, HUD pays the amount on thevoucher directly to the landlord (HousingAssistance,2017). Again, those receiving other welfare programs do not qualifyfor the Housing Welfare Assistance Program.

Thecaseworker called out, “next person.” It was my turn. Inside theoffice, the caseworker asked me questions as he filled the form. Heasked me my name and after I spoke my name he asked me questionsconcerning my age my level of education monthly income and sourceof income if I have any dependents whether I am in any welfareprogram assistance the period I have been homeless and told me toproduce y identification card to prove that I am a residence of NewJersey. I replied that I am 25 years old and I dropped out fromcollege in the second year when both my parents died. I earn $16 permonth from the odd jobs I do in the neighborhood, and I do not haveany dependent. I also confirmed that I am enrolled in any welfareprogram assistance. I have been homeless for three months. I showedthe caseworker my identification card, and he recorded the number.

However,they did not offer me any assistance but promised me that there isstill possibility if I come back next time. I was given a letterstating that the information I provided were not satisfactory for meto be enrolled in the Housing Welfare Program. I left the officepretending to be annoyed. Then when I reached the exit gate, thesecurity officer stopped me and told me that he could link me to aperson who will help me get assistance. However, he told me thatthere are some protocols to be followed. I need to part with someamount of money so that they can process my application.

Fromthis conversation, I realized that for anyone to get assistance inthis center, you have to bribe someone. The case caseworkersinterfere with the process by looking minor issues just to find anexcuse to lock someone out of the program and give it to theindividuals who can afford decent houses considering their monthlyincome. They often bend the rules to favor their situation and getassisted from the guards whom they have given instructions what todo. My participation in this research helped me observe many thingsthat were happening at this particular welfare center. Thecaseworkers were not interested in helping the needy unless they arebribed. As a result, many of those who get assistance are the peoplewho in the first place do not need assistance because they can affordto bribe the officials.

Inthis observation, both the caseworkers and other individuals whoneeded help were not aware of my presence as a researcher andtherefore, did not change their behavior. According to Esterberg(2002), the participants in an ethnographic research behaved normallybecause they are unaware that they were being watched by theresearcher. This situation helped me observe and get the real pictureof what has been happening in this station (Esterberg, 2002). Iobtained honest answers from the participants since they identifiedthemselves with because in was in the same situation as them.


Esterberg,K. G. (2002).&nbspQualitativemethods in social research.Boston, Mass. [u.a.: McGraw-Hill.

HousingAssistance.(2017).&nbspFederalSafety Net.Retrieved 1 April 2017, fromhttp://federalsafetynet.com/housing-assistance.html