Back during the Watergate era, a source famously gave some wise advice to two young reporters: Follow the money. More recently, our reporter Kelly Bennett blazed another path: She followed the heartache.

Last summer, an attorney told Bennett about a young woman who went blind from untreated diabetes after the county wrongly refused to provide her with medical assistance.

Not surprisingly, no one seemed to know who the woman was. “We’re talking about a safety net with gaps that people fall through,” Bennett says. “But when you fall through a gap, you aren’t traceable.”

Bennett persisted, peppering her sources with questions and digging through piles of documents. Finally, Bennett reached Michele Quemuel and convinced her to tell her story, which leads off the first part of this week’s Out of Reach investigative series about the gaps in the county’s safety net for the poor.

The blend of personal human stories and hard statistics is what makes Out of Reach so compelling. Bennett and colleague Dagny Salas have created a broad picture of the gulf between the poor and the services designed to help them.

Visit the Out of Reach homepage for all the stories. The latest posts in the series appeared on our site yesterday: one looks at a new report that examines why the county’s food-stamp participation rate is the lowest in the entire country. The other post profiles a man who never made more than $30,000 a year, ended up with a $86,000 appendectomy bill and — wrongly, a court later said — was denied assistance by the county.

“We’re not blowing anyone’s mind by saying it’s tough to be poor here,” Bennett says. “But it’s surprising to people to say that there are so many instances where we’re stacking up so much lower than other places in the state and the country.”

In other news:

  • Speak softly and carry a big stick, said Teddy Roosevelt. The chairman of San Diego’s Commission on Gang Prevention and Intervention takes a somewhat different approach: He “walks in courage” and carries a big voice.

    Rev. Harry Cooper Jr., who’s also pastor of Southeast Community Presbyterian Church, is an advocate for reaching out to troubled kids in school before they turn to gangs. He also tells people to “not live in fear.”

    In this weekend’s Q&A, Cooper talks about gangs in San Diego, the truth behind crime statistics and what average people can do to help.

  • Since bankruptcy has been floating around as an option for San Diego, we take a close look at how the Northern California city of Vallejo is handling its own bankruptcy and try to get some clarity on whether a city can wipe out its pension debts in Chapter 9.
  • The Photo of the Day blends bird, church, cross and sky.

Elsewhere:

  • In the U-T: Garbage-truck drivers are getting an education in being crime-spotters. They’re said to be enthusiastic about taking on this new role. Also: an editorial writer is “irate” about the “imperiousness and arrogance” of the county’s chief administrative officer. What terrible thing did he do? He expressed an opinion about term limits for county supervisors in an e-mail sent from his work computer.
  • Finally, an Oceanside animal hospital is discouraging picketers upset that it hired a non-union contractor by placing three bins filled with animal feces near the edge of its property. The picketers are grossed out and worrying about their health; the animal hospital is unapologetic. (NCT)

You could call this a case of putting your manure where your mouth is. Maybe the hospital picked up this technique from a politician.

A note: The Weekend Report is out of space due to our expanded look at the “Out of Reach” special report. Look for the Coffee Collection and Quote of the Week in Monday’s Morning Report.

— RANDY DOTINGA

Dagny Salas

Dagny Salas was web editor at Voice of San Diego from 2010 to 2013. She was an investigative fellow at VOSD from 2009 to 2010.

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