Sometimes it really does take a village to help the homeless.
David turned 65 in February. For the last 11 years, he has been homeless, spending the bulk of those years living in his truck. Each month, he received $282 in social security retirement and $155 a month in food stamps — not nearly enough to afford a home.
Over at our Helen Galloway clinic, Kathleen Tyndall, PA-C was treating David for uncontrolled blood pressure and diabetes. Kathleen met David at the YMCA, where he maintains a membership to have a safe place to be inside and shower. Knowing he needed more than medical care alone, she referred David to our Community Cares office.
The Care Team went to work signing him up for insurance. Applications for Medicare and Medicaid as well as the Extra Help plan that assists with paying prescription costs, were submitted. As expected, David was approved for all three and could finally address his long-standing dental issues. The team also believed the he should also be eligible for Supplemental Social Security Income (SSI), and referred him to apply at the Social Security office. All in all, February was a great month.
March comes in like a lion.
The first sign of a problem was a change in his Medicaid eligibility. David was designated as Title XIX recipient of full benefits. His status was now being changed to Qualified Medicare Beneficiary (QMB) which only covers Medicare Part B premium. This indicated that the state had discovered assets the client hadn’t revealed to the coordinator.
The work we do with our clients in Community Cares is as different from the cast to case as the clients themselves. you have to work through the complex realities of each client’s situation and do whatever it takes to access the services they need. You are constantly switching hats between advocate and investigator. Client after client, you need the endurance of a long-distance runner and the quick response of a hurdler.
David’s was a case in point. Soon our team was confronted with another red flag: denial for SSI. Rochelle Bryant, GraceMed’s Director of Community Cares, went with David to the Social Security office and learned that tax records showed he owned property in Fredonia, KS. David insisted he lost all his property in a 2002 bankruptcy, but an online search of Wilson County tax records still listed him as the property owner. To qualify for Medicaid XIX and Supplemental Social Security Income, David cannot have more than $2000 in assets.
So we set about proving that David was not the legal owner. The law office that handled the bankruptcy graciously provided copies of the final ruling showing all assets forfeited in 2002. But they also included a statement that the property in question had no value, leaving the impression the bank didn’t wish to take ownership. We shared the information with Social Security. Their response? Not good enough.
The bankruptcy attorney said David could complete a deed in trust to the U. S. government. Since David was unable to pay however, they could not provide that service. Kansas Legal Services also declined to assist. So we were stuck with a piece of property that the bank said had no value, the client insisted he didn’t own and the county assessed to be worth $2470.
No one ever accused the Care Team of being quitters.
As they say in crime dramas, then we got a break in the case. Rochelle discovered that someone had paid taxes on the property through 2016, and David confirmed it wasn’t him. A call to the Wilson County tax office revealed that a resident of Texas had paid the taxes, but they were now delinquent. The property was coming up for sale at a tax auction. Why was a stranger from Texas paying taxes on land he didn’t own? Another call to Mike Jeffers, president of the bank listed on the bankruptcy documents, produced a fax letter with a copy of the purchaser’s check, acknowledging that the bank did take possession, sold the land and the new owner failed to file a proper deed.
Stunningly, Social Security still denied our appeal. We placed a second cal to the bank. Mr. Jeffers obtained a quick-claim deed and walked it through the Wilson County assessor and register of deeds offices. This information was provided to Social Security Administration and, within 30 days, David finally qualified for his supplemental income.
The last hurdle: David himself.
The Wichita Police Department has a wonderful group of officers who make up their Homeless Outreach Team. Officer Lisa Berg, a member of this team, had previously offered David an apartment through the City of Wichita’s Housing First program. This program pays rent and utilities for the first three months. David would be asked to contribute to his housing costs at a rate that leaves him enough income to sustain his daily needs. We spoke with Michelle Haupt at Wichita Housing and learned he would be assigned a participating case manager. David initially refused stating, “he didn’t need a babysitter.”
This is another challenge we often confront in Community Care. Many of our homeless clients are either skeptical of the help offered or struggle to let go of their pride and accept the help. That’s why it’s so important to build a relationship of trust with each one of the people we serve.
A little while later, David reconnected with Officer Berg when his truck was stolen while attending Sunday morning church services. She was able to help him recover his truck, and again referred him to the program. Having worked with Ms. Haupt and knowing the opportunity David had passed on, Rochelle encouraged him to call her and accept the offer. Rochelle assured him that she would work with Officer Berg to help him make the transition, and David moved to his apartment on March 12, 2018.
So what’s left? Making a house into a home.
With the help of our friends at United Methodist Open Door food pantry, we were able to assist David with a food box. We also got him enrolled in the Pantry’s Commodity Supplemental Food Program for seniors. Our friends at Ministry of University Congregational Church run a personal hygiene pantry at Open Door. Our Care team picks up 20 bags of hygiene products per month for clients like David, who are unable to travel to their site.
While David had some furniture in storage, we requested assistance from another resource, His Helping Hands, to provide a bed, sofa, dresser and toaster. Each month David had used $150 of his income to pay for a storage unit. He has maintained this storage unit for 11 years through income from odd jobs then his benefit from Social Security beginning at age 62.
While we may struggle with what at first thought seems a terrible use of limited resources, we should keep in mind that when a person loses everything — family, home and work — they try to hold on to something that gives them a sense of normalcy. This unit holds items from his late mother’s life as well as his own that are precious to him. to his credit, he allowed persons from his church to help him sort through and discard the unusable items prior to his move. His church family also helped transport his furniture to his new home.
David may seem to be an extreme example of homelessness. But Ms. Haupt shared the story of another elderly gentleman helped through the Housing First program who had been homeless for 19 years. His issues were similar to David’s in that he did not know how to navigate the multiple systems one must satisfy to get help. Unfortunately, this is the reality for many. While we and our partners are not always successful in meeting clients’ social needs, surveys by the Kansas Coalition for Community Health Workers found that knowing someone cared enough to try and help, gives people renewed hope.
We saw that hope grow in David as we moved through his journey. His personal hygiene improved, he stopped shuffling and became more vocal in advocating for himself. It feels good to live in a village where people care about their neighbors, and I’m glad to report that March, for David, did indeed go out like a lamb.
This post originated in our State of Grace quarterly news magazine. If you would like to receive the magazine, please visit this link and give us your information. Thanks!