When President Obama went to Fort Myers, Fla., to emphasize the nation’s need for his economic stimulus plan, he promised to help a pleading homeless woman get back on her feet in a highly publicized exchange – but recent reports now reveal the woman may, in fact, be an owner of multiple properties.
“I have an urgent need,” the elderly black woman identifying herself as Henrietta Hughes told Obama at a Feb. 10 town hall rally.
She nearly broke into tears, telling the president her family is desperate and homeless.
“The housing authority has two years waiting lists, and we need something more than the vehicle and the parks to go to,” she said. “We need our own kitchen and our own bathroom. Please help.”
The audience applauded as Obama kissed her on the cheek.
“We’re going to do everything we can to help you, but there are a lot of people like you. We’re going to do everything we can.” Obama promised the well-dressed woman. “I’ll have my staff talk to you after the town hall.”
National media called her “The face of the economic crisis,” while critics suggested the heartfelt moment may have been staged.
After the incident, Chene Thompson, wife of Florida state Rep. Nicholas Thompson, R-Fort Myers, said she would allow Hughes to stay in her home without charging rent.
“Basically, I offered Ms. Hughes and her son the opportunity to stay in my home rent-free for as long as they need to,” Thompson told WBBH-TV in Fort Myers. “I’m not a millionaire, I’m not rich, but this is what I can do for someone if they need it.”
Hughes and her son, Corey, later declared to MSNBC that they had found hope with the help of God and Obama.
“I’d just say thank you very much, we appreciate you,” said Corey, though it was Thompson who ultimately provided the helping hand.
While the media echoed the inspiring story, Florida’s CBS affiliate, Southwest WINK News, revealed that Hughes had refused assistance for her allegedly homeless family before the appearance with Obama.
The director of We Care Outreach Ministry, Tanya Johnson, told the station she offered Hughes a home for three months in January – but the woman refused to accept her offer.
“We would have allowed her to stay for the first 90 days, no income. You know free,” she said.
Johnson said she gave Hughes and her son money, food and free job training courses – but the woman refused again.
“We have extended a lot of her services to her,” Johnson said.
Nonetheless, Hughes told the station she’s never cheated the system and never chose to be homeless.
A blogger on Sweetness & Light researched property records for Hughes and found that the woman owned as many as three properties in recent years. Ownership of one home was transferred to a bank in 2003, and she sold another in 2005 – two years after she allegedly began living in her car with her son – for a profit.
Hughes granted full ownership of another property to her son, and the blogger suggests that Hughes made the transfer to meet income requirements for continuing to collect Social Security Disability Insurance and Medicare benefits.