I estimate that in the three months I consistently met with Anthony I spent well over $100 at McDonalds.  Yes, McDonalds and occasionally Wendy’s.  Anthony was a 23 years old homeless gentleman that I met through a local shelter that serves the homeless.  Anthony was in need of help completing his SSI/SSDI application and after our first meeting, the trips to McDonalds began.  You see, Anthony loved McDonald’s breakfasts and before every one of our meetings I would always stop and get him breakfast.  It became our ritual, we would sit in the conference room at Interfaith – he would eat his breakfast, I would drink my coffee and we would just talk.  We talked about everything from his childhood, how he was about to become an uncle, about whether or not he had had contact with his family Florida and what led to him becoming homeless in upstate New York.  The application seemed to become somewhat of an afterthought – sure we completed all the paperwork, visited the SSA office and set up doctor’s appointments but what really became important was our twice a weekly meetings, and those sausage egg McMuffins.

Unlike the other Senior Project Associates on the SOAR team I had never completed an actual SOAR application before coming to PRA.  I had previously worked with individuals experiencing homelessness and became well versed in work incentives and SSI/SSDI but SOAR was not a part of my professional experience until I joined the team.  There is much to be learned from the SOAR training but nothing compares to the hands on experience of working with an actual client.  Initially I was nervous about taking on such a large task while working to balance travel and the ongoing work with my states but I knew completing an application would make me a more informed member of the SOAR team.  So I dove in head first – getting to know my client, completing all the necessary forms, writing all the narratives and assessments but in the end it turned out to be so much more than that.

Anthony went through some tough times and wrestled with some challenging decisions during the time I was working with him but because I had gotten to know him through using the SOAR process I was able to serve as not only his case manager but also the one constant in his life.  In the end Anthony decided to return to his family in Florida; we had our last breakfast, I assisted him with getting his cell phone turned back on, dropped him off at the bus station and told him to be sure to call the office when he had arrived safely.

Throughout it all it may have seemed like I was the one assisting Anthony but in reality he was the one teaching me.  He taught me not only about the SSI/SSDI process but also about the experience of being homeless – without even knowing it he taught me empathy, best practices, patience and that the easiest way isn’t always the best solution.  I had the privileged to be a part of Anthony’s story and I know that the SOAR process is only the first step along his road to recovery.