Arlington: A Panhandler’s Story

Arlington: A Panhandler’s Story

After a year of trading on “vet” status, panhandler goes to jail

— Everyone noticed the young man who limped along the median running down the center of Glebe Road. He had tousled curly hair, light hazel eyes, the face of the kid next door. He held up a sign: “Homeless Vet”, scrawled on cardboard. He wore camouflage trousers with one pant leg rolled up; you couldn’t miss his artificial leg. He looked cold and tired. He didn’t want to say much when he was approached. He turned down a meal and coffee. “I can’t leave this spot,” he said. “It’s the best spot and those guys over there will take it.”

Carson (not his real name) didn’t want to be identified or talk about himself. “I don’t like my story,” he said. “I’m not happy with this, what I am doing.” He sidestepped questions. But when asked if the rumors were true about how much panhandlers make in a day — more than $300 for some — he acknowledged he made a lot. Sometimes more than that, he said. He thought it was because of his leg. The rumors about the panhandlers giving their money to a “boss” who gets a large cut? “No,” he said, “Those rumors are not true, unless of course,” he laughed cynically, “you mean the drug dealer. I turn my money into him at the end of the day.”

Carson related a story which later turned out to be mostly false, according to local authorities who know him. He said he entered the service with a drug problem; he was expelled from high school for drugs. He says he lied about his drug past when the U.S. Army was looking for recruits back in 2006. Where did he lose his leg? Carson hesitated and looked away. “Ramadi. 2007,” he said. Carson related how he was evacuated to Ramstein Base in Germany and then home. The Army treated him well, at first, giving him his new leg and rehabilitation, Carson said. But then they found out he had a drug habit and had lied about it upon enlisting. They didn’t want to help him as much then, Carson said.

When A-Span caseworker David Ordonez hears about Carson, he nods. “Oh, the ‘vet’ with the artificial leg,” said Ordonez. “He’s not a vet. We’ve talked to him. He won’t come in for help.”

“He is not a veteran,” said Richard Kelly of the Arlington Police. “We’ve interviewed him and he admitted he lost his leg in a car accident while intoxicated.”

Case workers and police echo the refrain: As long as the well-intended residents of Arlington continue to give him money, Carson will get his daily fix and be that much closer to either a fatal overdose or prison. They were right: Carson was later arrested for possession of heroin and is currently doing two years in prison.