Four times in three years, Bob Andrews' problems with his heart landed him in the hospital, the most recent time for seven days.
A full-time chef, he had been determined to stay on the job.
"I'll stay on my meds, I'll be fine," he says he told himself. But "the last time really scared me. With every breath, I thought I was going to have a heart attack."
He knew he couldn't work any longer and yet has found connecting with the social services he needs to be almost a full-time job.
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Every day, he gets on the phone in his Lexington apartment, checks out his local sources — which churches have bus passes so he can travel to find rent or utility assistance, where bread or clothing is given out on any given day. He sometimes finds help through Craigs list.
But while there is help, he said, the system is diffuse and confusing.
For example, Andrews wasn't aware until recently of 211, a clearinghouse program run by United Way of the Bluegrass that connects people in a nine-county area in Central Kentucky with more than 1,000 social services.
"A lot of people coming into this for the first time, they are lost," Andrews said. And, he said, you have to be willing to go to offices and wait for assistance. Well-known programs — such as those run out of Maxwell Street Presbyterian Church in Lexington or the Lexington Rescue Mission — run out of help quickly.
Others are hard to find unless you are willing to go to an office and sit and wait for help.
"A lot of places you don't get a human being on the phone," he said. "It's not that they don't care, it's just that they are really busy."
(Plus, Andrews, who is heavily tattooed and has many body piercings, said he tends to make an impression. They remember him as "Bob with the piercings.")
Andrews is doing what he can. He's taking free computer classes and going to employment training at the library. He has signed up with Vocational Rehabilitation and is in the process of retraining for a career that will keep him behind a desk instead of over a stove. He has just been approved to receive disability payments.
That means things are looking up, but he's still about six weeks behind in his rent and, despite applying for part-time work, he is dependent on making the social-services network work for him.
Two days a week, he is a volunteer chef at Lexington Rescue Mission.
Overall, people have told him "no" more than "yes," he says. He has chased down many leads on rental assistance only to find out he doesn't qualify. There are days when it all feels too overwhelming to keep going.
"It gets real frustrating sometimes to always get a negative answer," he said.
But given his current circumstances, he has little choice.
'You just have to stay positive and do whatever you can do to get through the system," he said. "You have to get up and keep moving every day."