Home for a day: Stories from Waco's panhandlers - KXXV Central Texas News Now

Home for a day: Stories from Waco's panhandlers

(Source: KXXV) (Source: KXXV)

Panhandlers are in many places in Central Texas, especially in Waco. People are seen holding signs and asking for money often.

News Channel 25's Makenzi Henderson and photojournalist Jordan Hicks decided to go and talk to some panhandlers to put a face behind those signs.

It's a place and a story where hell and humanity meet. It's where you can get a hand out or a middle finger, a hopeful feeling or a dreadful melancholy.

Most just drive by, missing completely the hand-written signs and worn-out bodies.

"Some nights we can get a hotel. Some nights we go sleep in the woods. Curl up wherever you can and let me tell you what, there are some cold nights," said Corey Brown, a panhandler.

Brown said he knows all about those cold nights and hot days all too well.

"We're struggling and it's real," Brown said.

News Channel 25 found him sitting on a median in January at South New Road in Waco with a sign that read: "In Jesus name, help please. God bless you."

"It's day by day for now. I've applied for several jobs out here but never got a call back. Then my phone shut off and I couldn't afford the bill," Brown said.

For Brown, not having a phone, or a family makes life nearly impossible.

"I took my wife and kids up to Washington, Washington State. She decided she didn't want to come back to Texas and after five years of marriage we split up and got a divorce and now I'm out here," Brown said.

Over on Franklin Avenue in February, News Channel 25 found a similar story.

"The mother of my children in Alaska just decided that she wanted to have something to do with the kids so she filed a protective order in Alaska which came here to Texas then I was incarcerated for eight days in Hillsboro and during that time I lost my job, we lost our home," said Trent, a panhandler.

Trent and his fiancee, Jessica, did not want us to reveal their faces or last names because they said they were actively looking for work and did not want the interview to hinder their search.

"I'm a firm believer. You can't help anybody unless you help yourself," Trent said.

They stood and held a sign that read: "Lost everything. Anything will help. Thank you. God bless."

"I would never see myself doing this but like I said everything seems to be spiraling down rather quickly and it's just not getting any better," Jessica said.

"We're just trying to get enough help so we can move forward so we can be financially stable as much as we possibly can so we can get to that job interview," Trent said.

For Trent and Jessica, having phones, a car and each other makes life seem possible.

"We're ahead of the game in many aspects," Trent said.

News Channel 25 found a different story at the corner of Franklin Avenue and New Road in Waco.

"It's kind of soft and pretty with a mountain Jack Johnson kind of feel," said panhandler, Cody Springer, as he described the kind of music he plays.

Springer strummed his guitar and stood in front of a make-shift donation bucket in February.

"If you tip that's great but a listening ear means more to me, you know?" Springer said.

He said he needed those tips to get back to his job on the West Coast.

"On my time off, I take the money that I earned from the boat. I decided to reconnect with my family, left them about $2,500 bucks and we got caught in a couple of storms and we over exhausted our resources so now we're just winging it," Springer said.

For Springer, having gas for his RV and the freedom to roam makes life very worthwhile.

"I just want to take a moment to thank everyone out there for doing the good deeds that you do to me or the next guy that's down on their luck or out of gas or maybe needs a burger, who knows, but I thank every body," Springer said.

If he could, he'd probably thank Linda Eaton. The retiree who lives in Waco said she sympathizes with all their stories.

"I like to put myself in their place because we don't know. Tomorrow we could lose everything we have like a snap. Things change so fast," Eaton said.

She said she spends her time driving around looking for people to help with a prayer and a care bag.

"Some of them are out here and they don't need help but you'll know which ones need help," Eaton said.

Sgt. Patrick Swanton with the Waco Police Department said a lot of them are not really homeless or poor and the money goes to alcohol, tobacco and drugs. However, the panhandlers we spoke with insist that's not the case for them.

As Brown, Trent, Jessica and Springer told their stories to News Channel 25, they said they wanted the community to know they're not the stereotypical street person.

"We don't drink. We don't do drugs," Jessica said.

They said they are just people who are down on their luck hoping for a dollar, a meal or a smile to get off the streets and back on their feet.

"Everybody used to be somebody and that's what we're trying to get back to," Trent said.

We were able to verify Trent's arrest and charges he told us about through Hill County jail records. The other panhandlers we spoke with did not provide ages for us to vet them further.

We haven't seen any of the people we spoke with around lately. We reached out to the couple to see how they're doing, but have not heard back. The others did not have ways to reach them.

Swanton said police can ticket panhandlers who are acting aggressively or putting someone in danger. He encouraged the community to give to organizations in town rather than people on the street. That way, he said, you know that your money is being used wisely.

There are several organizations in Waco that help the homeless, My Brother's Keeper, Mission Waco, Compassion Ministries of Waco, and The Salvation Army.

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