Couple Makes Best of Tough Situation
By Jessica Ladd
Delta Digital News Service
JONESBORO — In America, 553,000 people experienced homelessness in 2018. Of those, 2,712 lived in Arkansas.
The homelessness issue in America continues to rise due to a lack of housing options for those with a low income. Without housing options, people face eviction, instability and homelessness. Low-income households don’t make enough money to pay for food, clothes or a home.
In recent years, Jonesboro took steps to reduce its homeless population. Mayor Harold Perrin enacted a task force to end homelessness. The HUB, a homeless resource center, opened in 2017 and the city has multiple food pantries available to help those in need. These services help, but people are still falling through the cracks.
Patricia Eggers and Allen Wheelis married 15 years ago. The two fight and argue like most couples, but they love each other more than anything. They own a registered service dog named Prints. A devoted Christian, Eggers carries a Bible with her everywhere. Wheelis enjoys playing the guitar and singing. The pair also suffer from homelessness.
“I don’t wish it on anybody,” Wheelis said. “Once we get back to square one, we get knocked down again.”
The couple came through Jonesboro in the spring and said they’ve been homeless for over a year and a half. Eggers worked at a Save-A-Lot but lost her job. A few months later, Wheelis lost his job, too. They didn’t know what to do. Wheelis’ sister lives in Missouri. She told them they could stay with her. She called them to cancel while they were driving through Louisiana. They didn’t know where to go or what to do.
Their car broke down in Louisiana. The two couldn’t afford to have it towed, so they left it behind. Now, they hitchhike or travel on foot. The pair have been all over Louisiana, Texas, Missouri and Arkansas.
Hurricane Harvey flooded the woods they were sleeping in. They lost most of their stuff. Another time, a levee broke and flooded their campsite. Eggers said she later went back and waded through knee-deep water for her Bible.
Through all the hardships, Eggers kept her faith. She served five months at Phelps County Jail in Missouri. During that time, she was all alone. She said it was the hardest thing she’s ever gone through. She turned to God for support. Eggers said God is watching over them and everything happens for a reason.
They carry all their belongings in a Hobby Lobby shopping cart. The pair came to Jonesboro in April. During the day, they tried to panhandle money. Wheelis said he didn’t want to panhandle, but they need money for food and shelter. He couldn’t find a job. Employers want an address, driver’s license or birth certificate. Neither one of them possesses a valid form of identification.
Eggers said her identification was stolen. She was walking along a road late at night in Lafayette, Louisiana. A man offered her a ride. She accepted. Eggers asked him to stop so she could use the bathroom. Once she got out of the car, he drove off, taking her purse with him. She lost the little money she had, her ID and important family photos she can never replace.
The couple said people treat them differently because they’re homeless. Eggers has been embarrassed more times than she can count.
“I had one guy tell me to go out and sell my body,” she said. “For you to sit there and say that to me— I’d rather sit here holding a sign than sell my body.”
They’ve been kicked out of gas stations, restaurants and even Walmart. One McDonald’s told them they were taking up space and needed to leave. They are constantly refused service. Once, they were arrested for sitting on church property.
Wheelis said most people assume they’re hooked on drugs or alcohol. When people hand him money, they’ll tell him not to spend it on the substances. Eggers said people don’t trust others nowadays. Eggers blames individuals who panhandle and don’t need the extra help. She said it hurts the people who actually need it and makes people less likely to help.
However, good people still exist who will lend a helping hand. Nick Bennett, a Jonesboro resident, saw Eggers and Wheelis sitting outside the Walmart Super Center on Highland Drive. Instead of giving them money, he gave them time and compassion. Bennett stopped and spoke with the couple for about 45 minutes. He said sometimes people just want someone to speak with.
“I’m here because I care. They’ve told me about the harassment they’ve gone through. It’s a disgrace — having water thrown on them. There’s no call for that,” Bennett said.
Bennett returned later with some clothes for Wheelis. He said he knows they’re just down on their luck. He called them genuine, down-to-earth people.
Eggers has a 23-year-old son from a previous marriage. She maintained contact with him but he isn’t financially stable enough to help them. The rest of her family and friends, she said, didn’t bother to check up on her. To her, that’s what hurts the most. Wheelis has a daughter from a previous relationship and they don’t talk much. None of his family offered to help either.
Wheelis said their situation is only temporary. He wants to get both of them valid forms of ID. Then he wants to get a job. Eggers suffers from PTSD and she has very bad anxiety. She said that’s why they could never stay at homeless shelters. The shelters always wanted to split them up. Wheelis agreed. He said he wasn’t going to sleep without his wife. They hope to get Eggers started on disability soon.
Both managed to keep a positive outlook on life. These two endured so much. They still try to smile at people and thank them for the help. Wheelis said he’s had people give him as little as 20 cents. He said it doesn’t matter the contribution, just as long as it from the heart. They said the key is staying humble and not letting pride get in the way.