News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Local & Bistate

July 16, 2014

Pencils & Permits

Disabled veteran selling pencils and pens says he is often hassled, but claims he’s not panhandling, just trying to ‘get by’

TERRE HAUTE — As a disabled veteran with multiple medical problems, Charles Barnes finds himself unable to return to his job as a truck driver.

He said he is also unable to support himself and his wife on his monthly disability payment. So, he tries to supplement his income by selling ink pens and pencils to passers-by.

“I’m just trying to survive,” Barnes said Wednesday as he stood in the grass by a sign near the exit of a retail area along U.S. 41 south of Terre Haute. “I’m not stealing. I’m not selling drugs. I’m not breaking into houses.”

He did not approach any vehicles, but if a person who stopped for a traffic light at the exit of the parking lot called out to him, Barnes approached to make a sale.

Barnes told the Tribune-Star that he has been warned by area police about panhandling as he stands holding a sign, offering to sell pencils or ink pens.

He carries a transient merchant permit that was issued March 11 by the Vigo County Auditor’s Office.

It allows him to have a temporary business, such as selling pens and pencils, for a six-month period.

Sheriff Greg Ewing told the Tribune-Star on Wednesday that he knew of no complaints about anyone selling pencils as Barnes was doing. He said depending on the wording on Barnes’ sign, it may appear that he is panhandling rather than selling pencils. That may be why police officers are stopping to warn Barnes about his efforts.

“What does his signage say?” Ewing asked. “Is he selling pencils or is he panhandling? The wording could be the confusion.”

The county’s transient merchants ordinance states that each application must be submitted to the sheriff for a background check to be done within 14 days of application. Ewing said that if Barnes has the permit, the man has passed the background check.

Barnes, originally from Michigan, has lived in the Terre Haute area for more than 30 years. He said he has heart problems so he cannot work. He said he knows of other disabled veterans around the county who are in the same situation, and he claimed that they, too, have been warned by police about their efforts.

“All we are trying to do is get by,” he said.

He considered the wording on his sign, which read: “Disabled Vet with Family N Need. Please buy a pencil.”

He changed the wording to read: “Support a Disabled Vet. Buy a pencil.” Then he resumed his spot to wait for customers.

Reporter Lisa Trigg can be reached at 812-231-4254 or Follow her on Twitter @TribStarLisa.

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