Changing names to protect those who deserve to tell the rest of their story one day.
I’ve been working with Sarah for three months. She is a tough client to work with, which makes her one of my favorite. She has been chronically homeless for over 10 years and has many barriers (issues) that keep her treading water in the same space she’s been in for a long time.
Some of these barriers push people away when she needs to pull them close. When she needs help the most.
One of the most complex factors when it comes to accessing homeless/social services is that if you miss multiple appointments, you are likely going to be exited from the program. You do not pass go, you do not collect $200… or in this case, anything. No help, no much-needed meds, no insurance, no counseling. Just nothing.
You start over from the beginning.
And when you are experiencing homelessness and are also trying to get a leg up, starting over can be too much. It can be the thing that pushes you over the edge.
This is Sarah. This is her struggle, and where she has found herself over and over again. She is often looked upon as difficult, non-compliant, frustrating. However, given a little extra compassion, Sarah is simply someone who is tired.
Sarah is tired of asking for help and failing. Failing when she doesn’t have the right document. When she doesn’t have the right person next to her to advocate for her. She’s tired of falling down alone, and not feeling strong enough to stand up one more time.
Today, I got to walk through one of the most difficult struggles of recent days with Sarah. It is one that most of our clients are facing. How to verify their identity with the IRS. There is a phone number to call that leaves them on hold for many hours, which will drain the battery on a phone they may not have anywhere to charge. Then they will be asked to provide information that they do not have access to, like credit card information, or tax information from the last time they filed taxes, which for some of our clients may have been ten years ago. The struggle is real.
Sarah finally was able to make an appointment at the Waco IRS office to verify her identity. The appointment was 6 weeks out, and she waited. During that time, she let me go and took me back as her caseworker twice. This is not abnormal for someone who is struggling with mental illness.
But the day finally came.
And the fear set in.
And she didn’t want to go. She would look foolish. She didn’t have her documents. She didn’t have her past taxes, she didn’t know how to get the information that they wanted. She didn’t know what to do. Truth be told, this was my first time taking someone to the IRS office to verify their identity, so I couldn’t set the stage for her. I couldn’t tell her exactly how it would go. All I could say was, “Sarah, we are going to go in there and look foolish together. This is their system, and it’s impossible to navigate, so we are going to ask for help. And we are going to pray that we get someone who is nice and compassionate to help us.”
She cried the entire way to the IRS office. I cried a little for her. Life should not be this hard.
Then we ran into Andrea. (Real name, because she deserves all the honor and praise.) She offered Sarah the only thing that was needed at this moment. Humanity. Dignity. Honor. She walked her through the absolutely simple process, and we were in and out before we knew it.
We walked out of the IRS and Sarah was a new person. Her shoulders were back and she hugged me harder than I have been hugged in a while.
But none of it would have happened if Andrea had not been there. If the sweet lady at the IRS had not used that moment to bring life and levity to a situation that desperately needed it. Andrea showing Sarah a little bit of dignity and treating her like a person who was not foolish, but was just there to conduct business like anyone else will make it that much easier for Sarah to walk into the next place with her head held high and get her needs met the next time.
Dignity. Honor. Humanity. A little bit changes the world.