I had been on the phone for two hours with Social Security. I spoke to multiple different people, answered the same questions dozens of times, and was once again on hold waiting for someone to help. Our office manager at the church brought a chair for my friend, Anthony, as he was tired of standing. He was staring at the wall. He was afraid and ashamed. I didn’t know how to help him, but I was trying my best.
He had been in my office many times before looking for help. Sometimes I gave him some money, and other times I took him out to lunch, to the grocery store, or to the pharmacy. One day, he came into my office with light pants and only a thin windbreaker jacket on one of the coldest days of the year. He was sleeping outside. They didn’t let him stay at the shelter anymore, and even on these days where the city declared a weather emergency, he often did not go. I went home and brought back to him a jacket, a winter hat, some gloves, and a blanket. He was thrilled. I felt good, like I had done something right and these small victories were becoming rare. When he returned a few days later, the jacket, the hat, the gloves – they were all gone. Anthony sold them. He told me later that he spent the money on drugs and a prostitute. I wasn’t mad. I felt helpless. Both of us were helpless in the face of his problems.
On this particular day, Anthony needed to call Social Security to have his payee changed, but he wasn’t able to do so himself. Social Security did not pay him directly, but instead paid a second person as he was deemed unable to properly manage his own finances. His payee did not want to do it anymore. I asked a lot of questions, and thought I could help by talking to his payee directly to see if we could resolve the situation. I was a pastor. The payee would listen to a pastor, right?
Anthony gave me the number. I called. It was the number of a church in Baltimore. His payee turned out to be his brother who was the pastor of the church. The receptionist told me that the pastor didn’t want to speak to me. He didn’t want anything to do with his brother anymore. He had tried, for years. He just couldn’t do it. I told my friend. He wasn’t surprised, but he was ashamed. I felt guilty for even calling.