Disability Advocacy for the Mentally Ill Homeless

Organization Information:

Organization Name:
Alameda County Homeless Action Center
City & State:
Organization Website:
Organization's Mission Statement

HAC is a not-for-profit legal service agency dedicated to serving the homeless and indigent in Alameda County, primarily through representation and advocacy for Social Security disability income. HAC’s practice is unique, being the only agency in the area to represent clients without charge, at all stages of the social security application process. In addition to helping individual clients acquire the disability income they need and deserve, HAC also works to effect change at social, political, and economic levels through strategic partnering and policy work.

Submission Information

Impact Essay

Impact StoryAlameda County Homeless Action Center (HAC)We are an agency located in Berkeley, CA that provides free legal advocacy services to homeless, mentally ill people, primarily through representation for SSI/SSDI benefits and MediCal health insurance. Our clients are the most marginalized and underserved members of the community, with the least access to formal mechanisms of justice, healthcare, and economic security. Each year for the past 5 years, HAC has helped over 150 people become eligible for benefits that provide a source of income and healthcare, leading to greater stability in all aspects of their lives. Our advocacy has a significant impact on local healthcare systems as well as the community as a whole. It provides clients with ongoing care that reduces reliance on costly emergency services, and generates revenue for local healthcare providers through MediCal reimbursements. On average, we calculate that for each client approved for benefits, local healthcare providers save over $7,400. Cumulatively, this means that over the course of a year, HAC saves the local healthcare system over $1 million in emergency care and associated administrative costs. HAC also works to effect broader social change through strategic partnering and policy work at local and state levels. All of our work is underpinned by a commitment to reduce inequities of all kinds and is performed in a way that fosters mutual respect and understanding.Founded in 1990, HAC has always been a streamlined organization, with minimal overhead and administrative costs. As a result, our technological infrastructure has not kept pace with the growth of our agency. While we doubled in size over a two year period, between 2006 and 2008, all of our computer equipment was either donated or purchased secondhand with much of it, including our servers, being almost 15 years old. Our software was similarly outdated: we were using Windows 98 operating systems with an abridged version of the Microsoft Office suite containing only Word, Access, and Excel. We did not have the capacity to coordinate schedules and communication amongst a growing staff with Outlook or generate Powerpoint presentations to showcase the impact of our work to contractors, funders, and policymakers. Further difficulty arose from the fact that much of our agency’s growth occurred through an increase in smaller, project-based contracts, making it difficult for us to manage the various data reporting requirements of funders as well as maintaining confidentiality for a growing database of clients. By late 2008 we had raised enough money to upgrade our technological infrastructure with Microsoft Windows XP and Office 2007 software offered at a reduced rate for non-profits. The effects of these upgrades have been profound. To begin with, a server with backup capacity and a secure network have alleviated our fears that 18 years’ worth of client case data could be lost or otherwise compromised. It is reassuring to us and our contractors alike that we now have reliable and safe storage. Office 2007 has also greatly improved intra-agency communications and staff efficiency which have in turn freed up staff time to serve more clients and provide more in-depth advocacy. For example, using Outlook we are now able to use company email addresses, rather than personal addresses as we had done before, and access our email remotely via the web. We also share a master list of agency contacts, facilitating partnership with other organizations, and manage an agency calendar to track staff schedules and important deadlines. We have used Word to develop forms for the legal documents we use on a regular basis, significantly reducing the amount of time staff spend preparing paperwork. Our Access database allows us to perform more sophisticated data management and analysis as well, so that we can produce reports for contractors, evaluate the effectiveness of our programs, and manage staff caseloads in less time.While none of these achievements are themselves cutting edge or revolutionary, taken together they have improved our agency’s ability to deliver high-quality legal advocacy services and remain afloat in a competitive non-profit funding environment. Having experienced the limitations of an outdated technological infrastructure for so long, our staff is quite appreciative of the effects these upgrades have had on our work. Thanks for giving us the opportunity to convey our impact story and for your consideration of additional support.

Submission Category
Stable and Secure Technology
Project Image
HAC front.jpg
Supporting Work Files