An 80-year-old homeless woman living on the streets of Washington D.C. has seen her longstanding claim that the government owed her thousands vindicated after she and a social worker managed to prove that Social Security owed her payments in excess of $100,000. The woman, Wanda Witter, had slept for years near 13th and G in Washington D.C. in a blue sleeping bag, alongside her three suitcases and other homeless women who helped to guard each other’s belongings. Contained within those suitcases was a stack of paperwork that proved the government owed her more than $100,000 — the only problem was that no one believed her.
“They kept thinking I was crazy, telling me to get rid of the suitcases,” said Witter, a former machinist from Corning, N.Y. After Witter lost her job making turbine and engine parts in Corning, she moved in with her daughter to study to become a paralegal. Witter earned her certificate and moved to D.C. for work in 1999, but gainful employment proved hard to come by and odd jobs weren’t enough to pay the bills. She began drawing Social Security benefits in 2006, but noticed that the amount given to her ranged widely each month — from $300 to $900. Unwilling to accept the money knowing that the amounts were wrong, she began mailing the checks back.
Witter’s daughters tried to get her to move in with family, but Witter said she “wasn’t going anywhere without the money they owe me.” Witter tried to explain her circumstances to homeless services, but they repeatedly referred her to mental counselors. Finally, she met Julie Turner, a social worker for Downtown Cluster of Congregations, who indulged her by going through Witter’s suitcases. “She had all the paperwork there, neatly organized, in order,” recalled Turner. “She was right all along. They did owe her all that money.”
Witter should receive a check from Social Security for $99,999 in the next few days, according to her new attorney, Daniela de la Piedra. Witter could be owed even more, but that was the largest amount the Social Security Administration was allowed to give while still getting her the money quickly. After 16 years on the street pleading her case, Witter is finally moving into her own apartment. She has yet to buy anything more indulgent than a pillow and some basic necessities — she said she still has a hard time believing that the money will come.
Read the full story at The Washington Post.