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Mark Hayward's City Matters: Panhandlers have their say -- Don't call us drug addicts


June 09. 2017 11:06PM
Cara Clymer gives money to a panhandler holding a sign on the access road between Candia Road and Hanover Street in Manchester on Thursday. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)



Call them homeless.

Call them panhandlers.

But don’t call them drug addicts.

That’s the message from three Manchester panhandlers, the day after Police Chief Nick Willard warned that money given to a panhandler could end up funding a drug overdose.

“He’s stereotyping. I don’t do drugs. I don’t drink,” said George, who stood at a Hanover Street intersection with a sign. He lives in his 1992 pickup.

On a good day of panhandling, he’ll earn $40 to $50.

“Don’t insult me by saying I’m doing this for drugs. It’s survival,” said Linda, 48, who usually sits on Elm Street with her friend, Lisa. They don’t hold a sign or ask for money; their only pitch is an upturned baseball hat on the sidewalk where they sit.

All three answered all my questions but asked me not to use their last names.

Even though jobs are plentiful, George and Linda say they can’t get work.

Linda, 48, lost her driver’s license to a drunken-driving conviction, and now can’t land even a retail job, she said.

George said people promise him jobs, but when he shows up no one is there.

Lisa gets $184 a month in food stamps and just moved into a rent-free transitional apartment for the homeless. At 49, she suffers from vision and lung ailments and has applied for Social Security disability, she said. Donations help her with household and personal items.

“How am I supposed to get Ajax to clean my toilet?” Lisa asked.

To be fair, Willard did not say that all panhandlers are drug addicts. In a two-page letter earlier this week, Willard stressed that panhandlers have civil rights, and police will only arrest them if they step into roadways or break other laws.

But Willard pleaded that people not give money to panhandlers. Better, he said, to donate to soup kitchens, recovery centers or other social service organizations.

Cara Clymer disagrees. She handed George $2 as I spoke to him.

“I want to make him happy,” Clymer said as she drove off. “I don’t care what he does with it. Everybody deserves to be happy.”

We’ve heard it for years — that homelessness has roots in mental illness, drug or alcohol addiction, a dysfunctional family life. The economy used to get blamed, but jobs are now plentiful.

“There have been panhandlers and beggars since biblical times. They always are going to be out there,” said Mary Chevalier, co-founder of 1269 Cafe, a Christian-oriented coffee shop that provides lunches and programs for the homeless and poor. “If someone is homeless and they want to get out, there is a way,” she said.

Cafe 1269 provides love and a sense of dignity, Chevalier said. New Horizon provides meals, shelter, social workers, a savings plan and medical care.

But some don’t like New Horizons because it has rules. New Horizons doesn’t allow drinking, drugs or alcohol on premises. And if you want to sleep there, you have to be in at a certain time.

Both George and Linda said they won’t stay at the New Horizons shelter. They give vague reasons: “Anybody who says ‘Get off the street and go to the shelter’? Stay there for a week,” Linda said.

George sees no way out of his predicament. “It’s a marathon,” he said.

Linda complains that she can’t get day laborer jobs in construction because she’s a female, but in the next breath she said her back hurts and she can’t work full-time anyway. Her regular gig is the concession stand at the Fisher Cats ball park.

Linda said she’s been kicked off Medicaid, and food stamps wants proof of rent and utility bills — hard to come by when she lives in a tent, she said.

“The whole system’s whacked. You don’t even know,” she said.

Meanwhile, George will continue panhandling on Hanover Street near Interstate 93. Cops have told him he has a right to be there. Just don’t step on the road. (He stretched to reach Clymer’s $2, cognizant of Union Leader photographer David Lane’s camera.)

Lisa and Linda said they’re not going back to Elm Street, at least not anytime soon, despite Willard’s pledge to recognize their civil liberties.

“What they tell people,” Linda said, “and what they do are two different things.”

Mark Hayward’s City Matters appears Saturdays in the New Hampshire Union Leader and UnionLeader.com. He can be reached at mhayward@unionleader.com.


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