Homeless woman proves that the government owes her $100,000
Wanda Witter didn't always live on the streets. After the now 80-year-old lost her job as a machinist, she lived with her daughter and trained as a paralegal. In 1999, when she was finished, she moved to Washington, DC to seek out a new position.
But the job market proved difficult for a senior citizen and with only small, temporary assignments, she couldn't pay her rent. She ended up becoming one of the numerous homeless in the capital, sleeping in a sleeping bag on the sidewalk and now and then taking refuge in a shelter. Because she had worked her entire life and paid into Social Security, in the midst of her plight, she began to try and collect her benefits. As of 2006, she started receiving Social Security checks, but quickly noticed that something wasn't correct. The monthly amounts varied greatly, fluctuating between $300 and $900.
She asked about the discrepancy, but no-one took the trouble to look into it. Wanda knew that no-one would believe her once she had cashed the checks, so she returned every one of them to the agency.
Wanda hadn't given her family an address in Washington. When her very worried daughter eventually found her there, she tried to persuade her to leave the streets and to move back in with her. Wanda refused. She was going nowhere until the government gave her what she was due.
She began to organize her correspondence with the agency into binders. Over the course of time, the binders filled three suitcases that Wanda dragged with her everywhere she went. No-one believed her story; everyone thought she was suffering from dementia. “They kept thinking I was crazy, telling me to get rid of the suitcases,” she said.
Sixteen long years after first becoming homeless, Wanda was still living on the streets. One day at the shelter, she met a social worker named Julie Turner. Julie cast a look at Wanda's documents—at first simply to do the old lady a favor. But when she began to read the paperwork, she was dumbfounded.
"She had all the paperwork there, neatly organized, in order. She was right all along. They did owe her all that money," Julie said.
She found Wanda an attorney and they filed an official complaint. On August 23, Wanda learned that a payment of $99,999—the largest sum allowed by Social Security—had been made into her bank account. Presumably, there will be more where that came from.
She rented a studio apartment on Capitol Hill and after a whole decade, she has a roof over her head again. She hasn't dared to buy more than an air mattress and a pillow. She still can't get her head around the fact that she actually got her money.
Without the interest in her case shown by a conscientious social worker, it might never have come to light that this tenacious old woman—dismissed as crazy—was right all along.
Good on Wanda for not giving up on her claim and special praise is due to Julie Turner for her role in bringing about Wanda's happy ending. Here's to hoping they'll soon be enjoying a champagne toast together in Wanda's new digs!