Meet the panhandlers: Elizabeth and Michael - WECT, weather & sports Wilmington, NC

Meet the panhandlers: Elizabeth and Michael

Once upon a time, Elizabeth was a working woman, making $98,000 a year with a company car, gas card, computer and tablet. (Source: WECT) Once upon a time, Elizabeth was a working woman, making $98,000 a year with a company car, gas card, computer and tablet. (Source: WECT)

Once upon a time, Elizabeth was a working woman, making $98,000 a year with a company car, gas card, computer and tablet. 

“I lived a very lavish lifestyle before then. Had to have the finest things. I was ‘'Elizabeth,'" she recalled.

It’s hard to believe the mother sitting in front of you now with a criminal history is the same person she’s describing. 

But peel back through her photos and you can see the former version of her. Family trips, outings with friends, surrounded by her children who are no longer with her, and proudly seated on stage accepting her diploma.

What happened?


“About four years ago we were in a bad car accident coming back from Myrtle Beach,” she recounted. “We both got hooked on pain pills. Pain pills run out then you turn to the next best thing when you're sick and that’s heroin.”

By “sick” she’s referring to symptoms of withdrawal.

It's a classic tale. An injury medicated with prescription narcotic pain killers becomes a dependency. The dependency becomes full blown addiction. Eventually, the pills run out, which sends them to the cheaper and more readily available substitute: heroin.

Any addict will tell you the drive to find a daily supply usurps all other needs. Bank accounts are quickly depleted. Personal belongings are pawned. Things are stolen – and the cycle continues downward in an endless effort to find funds to pay for bags.

Elizabeth and her husband, Michael, were living in Greensboro at this point, where panhandling is legal. Their drug use was at its height and they had just gotten out of jail. At the off ramp from the highway, they ran out of gas.

Slightly panicked she turned to Michael who asked, “Do you trust me?”

Michael walked his bride up the hill to the corner, placed a cardboard sign in her hand that read ‘Homeless and Hungry, God Bless,’ and told her to stare at every car, giving a smile and a wave before moving to the next.

“The first stoplight I made $35 and I ran up the hill I said ‘Oh my gosh! This works!’” she exclaimed. “After that, you kind of get hooked. In this one spot, I would make anywhere from $100 to 200 a day. That was more than I was making nursing.”

Like most panhandling couples, the female works alone while her significant other stands guard. His job is to supply food and water, make sure she’s safe and be a look-out when law enforcement is approaching.

Elizabeth says Michael provided security but also acted as the bank. He kept track of how much they needed until he could go pick up his drug fix.

The two racked up criminal records before leaving Greensboro. Elizabeth says they picked Wilmington in hopes of finding a more sober environment, not knowing it was considered one of the worst areas for opioid abuse.

She got a job at a restaurant on Oleander Drive. Two days before Christmas she was unemployed again when the managers found her stealing money out of tips on the receipts.

She set up shop with a cardboard sign in hand, just across from the restaurant on Christmas Eve.

Where are they now?

Elizabeth delivered her baby shortly after her interview. She has been re-arrested several other times for different charges.

After briefly working at another salon she was spotted panhandling again with a “Homeless & Pregnant” sign near Oleander Drive. Since then we have lost contact with her.

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