The School Newspaper of Texas High School

Part 3: A Panhandler’s Tale

Drugs, healthcare contribute to life on streets; city ordinances try to curb handouts

January 27, 2022

Cars and pickups alike fly by the dull Texas street just as easily as the wind blows or sunlight falls down. Life is hard, sure, but the good heart of some people met during the autumn morning allows the day to take a turn in the right direction.

The charity some individuals of the community have shown has gone a long way in making the normal routine better, but the good Samaritans cannot solve everything. On the side of Seventh Street, a man and woman sit wearily after a prolonged day.

The sun has tanned the two to an earthy tone while the woman holds a sign reading, “Need money for food & rent; bless you.” The money they have received has allowed them enough to have somewhere to sleep, but that’s about as far as it will go.

The two are Regina and Joe. Regina is originally from North Carolina while Joe grew up all over the country as his stepfather was in the Navy.

“When I was little, we went from state to state for 20 years,” Joe said. “After that, I came back over here to Texas.”

While Joe came here at a younger age, Regina only decided to come to this part of the country due to a relationship. This, however, did not go as planned.

A panhandler sits at an intersection with a sign seeking work. (Photo by Dakota Dennard)

“I lived down here with my ex-husband who told me the world was beautiful down here and [had] so many jobs,” Regina said. “He lied so horribly.”

Jobs and finances have been an ever-growing issue in today’s economy. It has been an even more rough subject for those less fortunate.

“The main problem is finances. I get $794 a month on disability,” Regina said. “That’s really not enough to pay–by yourself–rent, power, water and everything else. There’s no way to do it, even in a one-bedroom apartment.”

The minimal opportunity available for disabled homeless individuals is coupled with the new Texas state anti-camping ordinances to provide an even more frustrating time for those in this situation.

“Just, truthfully, it is the most dangerous thing because now not only do you have the city ordinance of Texas, you have other people who are on drugs, who are trying to hurt you to take your stuff,” Regina said.

Another large problem within the community is drug addiction. This topic has directly impacted the duo in a series of ways.

“I’ll be straight up honest with y’all right now. I’m an addict,” Joe said. “The addiction is nothing fun, man. People think it’s easy. It’s hard to control yourself. It really is.”

Drugs have also resulted in the harm of many people in their community. Regina was attacked and obtained a broken wrist from an altercation.

“He attacked us in our camp, and I got in between the two of them,” Regina said. “He threw a brick in my face, and I blocked it and it cracked the outside of my wrist.”

Some individuals in the homeless community view drug abuse as a result of a greater problem, that being the inaccessibility of their formal medications.

“The sad part about that is that drugs are so easily accessible on the streets, and you can find a narcotic on the street faster than you can find antibiotics for people who need them,” Regina said.

The healthcare system is one of the leading institutions that have been shown to put people on the street. This time after time has been a common troupe in the stories of those who have found themselves in the aforementioned situation

“Before I got on Medicaid, two of my insulin is $1,000 a month, and that’s just two of my insulin, not counting the other 14 medicines I’m on,” Regina said. “If people had access to be able to get their medication, a lot of people wouldn’t be on drugs.”

The healthcare industry is only one of the larger institutions that affect the lives of homeless people every day. Another institution that plays a massive role in the lives of Texarkana’s homeless is the local police department.

“I think that a lot of those people that you see on the side of the streets, with signs are, to put it bluntly, looking to try to get money out of someone,” said Shawn Vaughn, Texarkana, Texas, Police Department Public Information Officer.

A sign discourages passersby from giving handouts to panhandlers. (Photo by Dakota Dennard)

Vaughn has been in the police force for many years and has seen how the area has developed in terms of homelessness.

“I think that there obviously are homeless people in Texarkana, but the majority of the homeless that live in Texarkana are not the ones you typically think of in terms of the ones that stand on the street corner with their signs,” Vaughn said. “There’s a lot of people in Texarkana that live on the verge of homelessness or they’re living paycheck to paycheck.”

The financial burden on these individuals was more than present to Vaughn, However, he believes that resources are best given to the organizations in Texarkana as they are more suited to combat it.

“There’s a whole list of [organizations] right here in Texarkana, and they do an outstanding job, but actually handing [panhandlers] money really doesn’t do anything in terms of fixing the problem,” Vaughn said. “And you’ve got to ask yourself, ‘Are you handing them money to help fix their problem or make yourself feel good?’”

The availability of a good job program is a proven method to decrease the homelessness epidemic throughout America. Homeless individuals in Texas should follow suit in the way of their eastern neighbor, Louisiana.

“I honestly think that in the way Louisiana has a second chance opportunity program, most of Texas should have them too,” Regina said.

Second chance opportunities refers to the Second Chance Act legislation, reauthorized in December 2018 with bipartisan support, that created the National Reentry Resource Center, as well as funds to improve reentry outcomes to those who have been to prison nationwide.

“If people have options to get jobs, then they have options to help the economy which has the opportunity to turn over more money for the environment, the state and for the city,” Regina said. “I know it’s gonna be a long process to have that actually happen, but if we start now, we could possibly get it done.”

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