By Jeremy Reynalds
Senior Correspondent, ASSIST News Service
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – With tax season and filing time being upon us, I wondered how our Joy Junction guests felt about taxes.
After all, while you can never escape from the long arm of the Internal Revenue Service, so to speak, when you’re looking for a place to stay and a meal, taxes tend to take a second place, right?
But there are a number of reasons why homeless people should file, even though anyone making an annual income less than $10,150 as a single person or $20,300 as a married person filling jointly is under the threshold for filing taxes and therefore not required to file a tax return.
My staff asked a few of our guests whether they plan to file this year and for those who do file, how much any potential refund they’ve received helps them out.
When confusion about taxes reigns for those of us who do have a job and a stable living situation, it’s not surprising that uncertainty about filing was prevalent among those homeless guests to whom we spoke.
One guy newly homeless said he has never filed.
He added, “I have heard that if you haven’t earned more than $5,000 that you are not able to file taxes. Also the time I did work I never received my W-2 to file taxes. I just don’t know how to file taxes, or what I would need to file as a homeless person.”
However, between Feb. 1 and the end of tax season, Joy Junction is blessed to have Phil’s Tax Service twice weekly provide help for our guests.
Shelter Case Manager Carl Valles said the business has been a blessing.
“Phil’s has great enjoyment and passion providing free tax preparation to the homeless. I also notice their diligence of doing the preparation correctly, and following up with residents who were unable to complete their taxes due to missing documents. They also help resident acquire missing paperwork.”
Valles added, “The residents recognize Phil’s Tax service as friends who provide a most important service to them for free and in a respectful manner.”
Another guy appreciated his refund. “Because the government is helping us from starving. I believe it is a social responsibility of all citizens to care for all other citizens, otherwise it would be chaos.”
In addition, he added, “It is a way of keeping track of the homeless population and how tax dollars are distributed.”
Someone else said he was employed last year and filed taxes.
However, he added, “I was unaware of being able to file taxes as a homeless person. Receiving a refund is better than nothing. We should be thankful for what we receive.”
Another man said he hasn’t filed for five years because he has been unemployed and homeless. He said he tried last year, but was told he didn’t make enough to file.
Someone else said he didn’t believe the refund was much help.
He added, “And without dependents, you did not get that much back.”
Weighing heavily on his mind was this thought, “To get your taxes done they charge a lot, and to do it yourself is too complex. I would have to say that I got more (refund) money being homeless here at Joy Junction then we did last year not being homeless. Also, we had our taxes done for free here at Joy Junction.”
Someone else said, “Now that I’m in New Mexico I wasn’t sure if I was going to file. Phil’s Tax Services came here and did it for free, so I filed. I received $54 from federal taxes and was not (required to file) state taxes, because I have not lived in New Mexico (long enough) to qualify. So, the bottom line is it wasn’t much, but a lot when you do not have much.”
One woman said while she filed taxes last year, she received a letter from the IRS “stating they need proof that I am who I say I am.”
Someone else said she didn’t know the tax laws for the homeless.
While not directly answering the question, one poignant comment was from a guy who was incarcerated for 16 years. His answer went beyond just the filing of taxes and what he thought about (potential) refunds.
“I am new to all these things going on in society … Mentally I am still institutionalized and unable to understand my freedom, and how other people take it for granted. I am just thankful to receive anything at all.”
If you employ homeless workers, here’s a handy guide.
And for those of you who just want to know more about filing your taxes, click here.
Photo caption: Homeless people gathering on the sidewalk on 6th and San Julian streets in downtown Los Angeles. (Photo by John McCoy/Los Angeles Daily News).