For years, 16 years to be pecise, Wanda Witter slept on the streets of NW, DC while trying to avoid attacks from human, animals and insects . Her tower of three suitcases was stacked on her handcart and bike-locked to the patio chairs next to her. She could also be seens in the various churchs attending mass around town.
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After battling Social Security for years, the 80-year-old woman who was homeless until a week ago got answer she had been waiting for all these years. She showed up at her bank SunTrust bank to check yet again, if her money had been paid in by Social Security
Wanda Witter, 80, after the arrival of overdue $100,000 from Social Security (Linda Davidson/The Washington Post
Wanda Witter, a former machinist from Corning, N.Y., relocated to Washington DC after she lost her job as a machinist. She is who is divorced and the mother of four adult children. Athough Witter had earned a paralegal certificate to prepare for a new career, she remained jobless – and ended up sleeping in shelters or on the streets of DC.
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In 2006 she decided to draw Social Security benefits. However, the monthly checks varied wildly, from $900 to $300. Believing the checks were wrong, Witter didn’t cash them and sought help.
‘If I just cashed them, who would believe me that they were wrong?’ She didn’t cash the checks and remained homeless until she could sort tings out.
She remained homeless, sleeping in hthe streets on the concrete in a sleeping bag wth her evidence in tthree suitcases. Witter kept a tower of three suitcases, containing her Social Security paperwork, next to her.
She did not tell her relatives about her situation, out of pride. When one of her daughters found her in DC, Witter told her she had to stay until she got her money.
For 16 years, no one believed her. She called Social Security’s toll-free number, sent letters and tried to get someone to listen to her predicament. But most folks dismissed Witter as crazy as she roamed the nation’s capital with a hand-truck loaded down with three suitcases packed full of Social Security paperwork.
“Those papers,” she would tell people, “prove they owe me more than $100,000.”
They called her a hoarder and said that all those papers were a fire hazard. She slept in shelters and on the street. She didn’t trust anybody. And most counselors believed that mental illness, rather than messed up Social Security payments, were her problem.
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Social worker Julie Turner believed her, though. Turner went through the neatly organized paperwork when they met in November and realized that it did, indeed, prove that Witter’s Social Security payments weren’t accurate. Then they stopped coming altogether when she had no fixed address and was homeless.
Witter then met attorney Daniela de la Piedra, who handles many Social Security disputes for the Legal Counsel for the Elderly, which is affiliated with the AARP.
And de la Piedra came to the same conclusion: Witter was owed a lot of money.
…she got paid
On Tuesday, Witter walked out of the bank, knowing she had finally been ade whole.
“I”m overwhelmed. I’ve never had this much money before,” she said.
“How do you act when you have $100,000?” she wondered.
She decided to go buy some groceries, and take them to the apartment she moved into last week.
“You know, some sandwich meat, or something,” she said.
And she would take the bus home. Not a taxi.
“I’ve got to figure out what to do next and how to make the money last,” she said.
She’d like to go visit her four daughters, who all live in different states.
“I’ve got grandchildren I’ve never met,” she said.
The $99,999 payment was the most that Social Security could make as a lump sum, without an extended approval process. More is coming, her lawyer said.
Witter is going to stay in D.C. until she gets all of it, she said.
In the meantime, she does have one big expense she’d like to get out of the way.
“My teeth,” she explained. “My top teeth. I want to smile without looking like an old hag. And I want implants. So dental work is what I want to figure out next.”