WASHINGTON — The story of 80-year-old Wanda Witter is unlike anything you’ve seen before.
Witter has been living homeless with documents stuffed in suitcases trying to convince people she isn’t crazy for more than a decade and that the government owes her $100,000 in Social Security money.
Witter, divorced and a mother of four who once worked as a machinist, said people always thought she was crazy for insisting an error was made in her Social Security payouts. She walked around the streets of Washington, D.C., for more than a decade to prove it.
“They kept thinking I was crazy, telling me to get rid of the suitcases,” she said. “I knew, when I committed to homelessness, I had to be very careful about what I did. ‘Don’t do anything stupid,’ I told myself. Because they’ll think I’m a mental case.”
According to a lengthy piece on Witter’s life by The Washington Post, a social worker named Julie Turner, 56, took the time to listen to the woman’s story and eventually learned that she was right.
Turner, an employee at Downtown Cluster of Congregations, said Witter had all of her paperwork in order and was right.
“She had all the paperwork there, neatly organized, in order. She was right all along. They did owe her all that money,” she said.
“She needed economic help, not mental help,” she added. “That’s part of the problem with homelessness in D.C. So many cases are written off as being about mental illness. A lot of times, homelessness really is simply about economics.”
Witter has since gotten a lawyer who specializes in Social Security disputes and anticipates a check for $99,999 in the next few days — and she might be owed more.
But how did Witter know something was wrong?
The Washington Post explained that varying check amounts starting in 2006 led Witter to void the checks she received rather than cashing them.
“Meanwhile, the Social Security benefits Witter finally decided to draw in 2006 were all over the place. The amounts ranged from $900 to $300 a month, Witter said. And she wanted to know why. She called the agency and asked. No one had an answer.
“Sick of the imprecision, she wrote ‘Void’ across the payments and mailed them back, refusing to cash checks that she knew weren’t right.
“Most folks running low on cash would have deposited those checks. But Witter is stubborn.
“’If I just cashed them, who would believe me that they were wrong?’ she explained.”
While her lawyer assures her that the money she’s owed is going to keep coming, like a good skeptic, Witter is saying, “I’ll believe it when I see it.”
“You never know that the next check will come,” she said. “I don’t believe it.”
Despite enduring an assault two weeks ago that resulted in a black eye and required stitches to repair, Witter now has a place to live, thanks to Julie Turner’s help.
Turner found Witter a studio apartment that costs $500 a month.
Last week, Witter got her first full payment of $1,464.