You know, sometimes when we talk about the
work in SSI, we tend to focus so much on the rules and the lose sight of the folks. So
I’d like to tell you a story about what this information, what this SSI getting can do
for somebody’s life. And these are real folks whose names, obviously, I have changed. One day in our SSI project, I got a call from
a social worker at the family medicine clinic who said that she had been working with a
gentleman who was being treated at their clinic for an anxiety disorder and happened to mention
that he had a brother who was at home and who had not left his house pretty much literally
for 23 years. I actually was very excited to meet this gentleman. So we made an appointment
to go out there, and I sat and talked with a fellow who I will call Jim. And Jim told me that about 23 years ago, he
noticed that when he went outside, he kept experiencing something he called a “fear
gas”. And he didn’t like it, and it made him uncomfortable, so he would stay in for
a while. And then finally sometime around 1974, he decided that he would simply stay
in. And he did for the next 23 years. He was a gentleman who had terribly decayed teeth.
His teeth were all brown and black because, of course, he’d had no dental care. His skin
was extraordinarily pale because he’d had no sun. And his muscle tone was pretty much
nonexistent because he really didn’t do anything during the day.
And when I asked him if he thought it was unusual for people to stay in their house
for 23 years, he kind of shrugged and said, “well it happens.” Now, what was going on with them was the other
brother, who I will call Joe, was the one who was having to take care of everything.
And so he was extraordinarily anxious. Although what I think was really true of both of these
gentlemen was that they probably had schizophrenia as young guys, and Jim had simply kind of
waited out some of the symptoms. So Joe was really struggling with trying to get income
and trying to get food and trying to get what they needed, and they were both living on
a total of one Maryland public assistance grant of $185 a month. They were living in a house that had been
their family home for most of their lives, and they were somewhere in the range of 50-51
years old. Their mom had passed away five years before. And what was going on with them
was they could not keep up with the property taxes, and they were about to lose their house
on a tax sale. They owed only about $1200, which was, of course, a fortune for them.
But in the grand scheme of life, it’s not much money. So when I met them, I said “I
will promise you that you will not lose your house.” They had a picture of a homeless man who lived
on the street up on their wall, and they said they looked at it every day, and they said
that is what is going to happen to us. It was a terribly sad situation, and they were
people that you just fell in love with. They were very, very sweet guys. So I went back to the office, and I thought,
well, if I ask everybody I know for, you know, $10 or $20, I could probably come up with
the $1200 and pay their taxes. Or we could, you know, have a bake sale or we could do
something so we raise the money. And in the meantime, we can get somebody out to see Jim
and see about doing his SSI. So I called the City. This was in Baltimore.
And I called the City and asked them if we could put a partial payment on their property
tax, and I explained the situation. And the tax lady said “well, we hear sad stories
all the time.” And I said “you hear stories like this?” And she said “yeah.” I said
“you hear stories about people being in their house for 23 years? That’s incredible.
You should call me.” At which point she told me that they didn’t take partial payments,
and she hung up. So we got somebody to go out and see Jim,
a psychiatrist, and he was more than happy to talk to this person. She came up a diagnosis
of schizophrenia. We used that diagnosis to put in his SSI application, got him presumptive
disability. We then found out that Joe had applied for SSI and been denied. So we called
DDS and asked them if they would consider reopening Joe’s case and explained the situation.
They said they would. So we quickly got Joe’s information together, wrote it up, and submitted
it and got benefits for him as well. The tax sale went through, but because they had a
few months after it to kind of retrieve their house, we were able to meet that deadline. And then we referred Jim to the Act team that
was based at the University of Maryland. And he has the most wonderful person working with
him. And she started visiting Jim and got him to come out of the house and used to drive
around. She would drive around Baltimore with him, and he would describe Baltimore to her
as it was in 1974 when he really had last been out. So he and his brother Joe then started going
everywhere together. And they brought us a picture of Jim having an elephant ride at
the zoo, just looking pleased as punch. And the first summer he was out, he got a sunburn,
quite a bad sunburn, actually. But he was very proud of it and thought that it was very
exciting that he could actually get a sunburn. So we heard about how they were doing, and
they would stop by to see us. And one day, I saw Jim in his therapist’s
office having tea and cookies with her, which was a ritual that they did at least once a
week. And when I saw him and thought of the incredible magnitude of this scene, that he
was out of the house after all this time, I began to cry because it was extraordinary
and it was extraordinarily touching. And I said “oh, look, you’re out. You’re having
tea and cookies and this is so wonderful, and looks at you having the tea and cookies,
and it’s just great.” And he looked up at me, and he smiled, and he said “do you know
what they call me now?” I said “what?” He said “Superman.” And I said, “well
you are.” And he is. For a while, Jim worked part-time since he’s
been out. He didn’t continue working, but he and his brother’s lives are so much richer
in experience and in hope and in joy, that that’s what SSI can help do. So when you think
about working with people and helping them with SSI, don’t think about the forms and
the paperwork. Think about what it can mean and what it can help people do in their lives.
That’s what this is about. Thanks.