‘It’s better than doing nothing,’ Oklahoma City panhandler says
Wayne has been panhandling for a year and a half, and has been to jail three times on the “job.”
The 67-year-old is not homeless. He has a vehicle. And, as of two years ago, he's a married man.
His need for medical drugs is what puts him on the corner of Northwest Expressway and Rockwell Avenue begging for money as often as his health will allow.
But Wayne does not drink, he said, nor has he ever been a user of illegal substances.
The drugs he needs are prescriptions for himself and his wife. Six of them are covered by insurance, but Wayne pays for 13 others with the cash he makes panhandling.
The medical bracelet he wears identifies him as a heart patient with Tourette's. Wayne also was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease in 2012, he said.
The Tourette's diagnosis came when he was 47, a lifelong problem that few people understood in the four decades he lived with it. His father treated the disorder by beating him.
“A lot of medications I need, I just don't take because I don't make enough money,” Wayne told The Oklahoman.
Drivers often mistake the nervous tics, trembling and labored speech as drug and alcohol withdrawal symptoms, he said.
“They'll spit on me. Throw Cokes on me. They shoot me the finger a lot. Some people laugh at me, but I'll just smile at them,” Wayne said.
“Some people tell me to quit drinking. They can't see my sign that says I have Parkinson's. They think I have the shakes,” he said.
A former oil-field worker, Wayne is not physically well enough to labor these days. But it pays to work holidays in his profession.
His best day was Christmas Eve of 2014, he said, when he made more than $200.
But most days his take is between $25 and $30. He tries to start his day at 9 a.m. and last until 3 p.m., but some days he just can't make it that long.
The pay averages out to above $8 an hour, he said. Federal hourly minimum wage is $7.25.
Before Parkinson's took hold, Wayne had repeatedly sought work.
“People, when I start speaking, withdraw from me because I don't speak well. If I could, I'd probably go around and wash windows,” he said.
When he heads home for the day, his work is often not done. He routinely contacts the police in the area where he works, and the division supervisor keeps a file of writings Wayne has punched up at home on his typewriter.
He's just trying to stay out of jail and put food on the table for his wife, he said. His longest jail stay to date has been 24 hours, he said.
“I was in such bad physical shape that the nurse would tell them to let me out,” he said.
He can't afford to spend much time behind bars because his wife, who suffers from diabetes and is in the early stages of Alzheimer's, relies on him to put food on the table.
“She eats before I eat. She's number one, and she always will be. I eat one meal a day so that she can have two,” he said.
Wayne and the police have conferred with the city attorney's office about the panhandling ordinance's guidelines. He plans to relocate to an area in the Quail Springs area where the median is at least 30 feet wide.
“It's very, very, very difficult to make ends meet,” Wayne said. “But it's better than doing nothing.”