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Local panhandlers criticized over photo - KOAM TV 7

Local panhandlers criticized over Facebook photo showing them with a laptop

A picture on Facebook draws criticism towards a homeless couple in Joplin.  It's a case of what does "homelessness" look like?

Victoria Lack, 37, says about a month ago she and her 55-year-old husband were on their way from New Mexico to Boston.  Lack says before they were able to get help from friends in Boston, their RV broke down in Oklahoma.

She says their savings have gone from about $2,000 to just about nothing.  She says they now live day-to-day, collecting between $20 to $30 a day at the intersection of Interstate 44 and Highway 43.

Lack calls it "hustling and surviving."

I asked her if she thought she was scamming people.

"I don't feel that I am.  I feel that I'm surviving just the same as anybody else."

Victoria Lack says her husband has depression and was not available for an interview.  So she showed us her nearby campsite.

"Home is where your heart is and my heart is with my cat and my husband, so no, I don't consider myself homeless.  I consider myself in a bad situation right now."

Lack says the situation has gotten worse since a picture showing her and her husband in a fast food restaurant on laptops has been posted on Facebook.

She says business owners have not hired her because of the picture.

"I can tell you what the blogs say," Lack says.  "'They're homeless, they're drunks, they're just out hustling.  They have a house, and this and that, and are trying to scam us from money, just so they can get drunk.'  That's not true."

She says both laptops were purchased before times got tough for them and the computers are used for online school.  Victoria says she's studying online to be a business assistant.  She says she has three semesters left through Eastern Arizona Community College, and is paying for school with a college disbursement loan.

"You never know what a person is going through or a person has been through, and they could've walked up and asked us what was going on, or why we had our laptops," says Lack.  "They chose to take pictures, blog stuff about us, and post it to Facebook of all things."

Lack says selling her laptop and cell phone, and taking the courses online at a library, is out of the question.

"I don't have transportation to the library, and in order for me to get the library, that's 30 bucks each time," Victoria says.  I can't afford 30 bucks a day."

We asked Victoria if she could live closer to the library.

"I have a cat and I'm not staying at a mission around alcoholics and addicts."

One Joplin shelter says many people broke and without a home still own technology, but also says staying homeless often times is fed by excuses.

"You almost have to have that connection to get a job anymore," says Joan Lewis of Soul's Harbor.  "We breathalyzer twice a day, we do a drug test if we feel it's necessary, and so they will not be drunk and be at Souls Harbor."

Lack believes help will soon come from friends in Boston.

During my interview with her, Lack started crying.  I asked why.

"Because I'm tired of everything and I'm tired of being judged.  No one wants to give me a chance."

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