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More Than Dollars and Cents

Updated: Feb 1, 2021

The mental health challenges of some leaves them unable to manage their own money and meet their financial obligations. Usually, some form of dementia or cognitive diminishment is at play. These individuals are at a high risk of becoming homeless simply because they can’t manage their money. The question is, what can be done to help?

St. Vincent de Paul offers direct account management services, called representative payee by the Social Security Administration, to keep people from running out of money month-to-month. A representative payee is someone who is authorized to manage a person’s entire financial life for a person unable to do so on their own. We work directly with the Social Security Administration to manage their income, write rent checks to landlords, pay the utilities, and provide money for everyday life. Through every transaction, our case workers make certain that the person being helped stays in the black ensuring their quality of life. When a person using our services needs money, they must call or visit us so that we can look at their budget and talk them through their options. Of course, every individual’s situation and finances are unique. Some require only a few visits to us per month. These high-functioning individuals still need help but are able to manage days or weeks of income largely on their own. Others, however, require many visits per week. Some even need help several times per day. Usually, severe mental illness prevents these precious souls from fully grasping the ramifications of their spending.

Despite these challenges, our case managers tenderly bring people into the financial decision making as much as possible while still addressing their needs and concerns. “We all need to be understanding to have understanding,” says one case worker. “Managing someone’s finances is not just a matter of money and bills. It touches on every aspect of a person’s life. Why do they want to buy this thing or that? What is the motivation? Or why do they need to send money to a person? Are they being scammed? That happens a lot to some of the people we serve. We try to help them navigate it all.”

Of course, nobody likes to be told they don’t have enough money for something they want. That is why a typical conversation between a case worker and payee can cover the whole range of emotions in just a few minutes. Anger and frustration usually give way to understanding and love by the end of a meeting. Currently, St. Vincent de Paul manages the financial life of roughly 150 people with room for more. We work tirelessly to ensure that they do not end up destitute or on the streets. Even if they do, our case workers serve as a point of contact for needed medical, psychiatric, and addiction services.

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