Wednesday, July 28, 2010
Help Me Howard: Scrap Metal
You don't need to be told times are hard, but most people are finding a way to get by. But one group that was making a small living has been shut down by the Florida Legislature. Is it legal to stop honest people from making a living? Is it discrimination to go after the poor? Let's bring in Help Me Howard with Patrick Fraser for some answers.
WSVN -- Alvin Clarke: "Let me get this can."
When you walk along with Alvin, it's hard to avoid the old saying: one man's trash is another man's treasure.
Alvin Clarke: "This is wire. This has copper in it. It was a TV obviously, but all this copper adds up, so whenever you see a piece, you get it."
Alvin Clarke worked in the hot sun, eight to 10 hours a day, picking up things people threw away.
Alvin Clarke: "There's some metal over here."
Your junk are not actually his gems, but the money he makes picking up scrap keeps him from being homeless.
Alvin Clarke: "$25 a day. If you walk long enough, you can find enough to make sure you have the rent paid."
At the end of each day, Alvin used to take his scrap over to the recycling center. Then, he got the bad news.
Alvin Clarke: "I can't sell it, or I go to jail. Ridiculous. When I get to the scale, the owner comes and says, 'Hey, that officer there says no more buying.' I was the first one at Alss Recycling that they refused to buy."
To combat thieves stealing people's air conditioners and other metal devices, the legislature said, you couldn't walk into a scrap yard with your metal. You had to drive it in a vehicle.
Alvin Clarke: "Contrary to popular belief, everybody who walks into scrap yards aren't stealing what they take in."
The legislature thought that recording the tag number from a vehicle would stop crooks from trying to sell stolen metal. But unfortunately, Alvin doesn't have a car.
Alvin Clarke: "What's the difference in taking my driver's license, my fingerprint, my signature if I push a cart in there or if I carry it in there? Walk-ins are the ones that actually need the income to basically feed themselves."
The people at the scrap yard know, guys like Alvin with their little carts of cans and wire are not the big-time thieves legislators are after.
Darlot: "I have known him for a couple of years now, and I know from the articles that he brings in, these are not things that are stolen."
Darlot may feel bad for guys like Alvin, but he can't buy his scrap.
Darlot: "And I tell them that there is nothing I can do. It's the law, and we've been told, if we break the law, we will be arrested."
The $25 a day Alvin made picking up scrap paid his bills. Now, he has no way to pay his rent.
Alvin Clarke: "I'm furious. You have no idea. You have no idea how mad I am. The little people, who have nothing and have no voice, are being cheated because no one cares about us."
So Alvin called Help Me Howard to see if legislators can legally do this to him.
Howard Finkelstein: "This even surprises me, that the legislature clearly discriminates against poor people. Is it legal? Yes, because there is a rational basis that recording a vehicle's tag number will help track down the sellers of stolen metal."
A state representative from Central Florida sponsored the bill and told us, he wanted it passed after thieves stole copper from machines in his orange grove.
Baxter Troutman says, he was after crooks and not targeting people selling cans like Alvin, that the effect on someone like Alvin was a honest oversight, and he would be happy to try to help get an amendment passed to allow people like Alvin to work, but that cannot be done till the next legislative session.
Howard Finkelstein: "In the past, the legislature realized how this would impact poor people and had an exception that allowed people like Alvin to walk in with the metal. The legislature wiped out that exception, and hopefully next year they will correct the problem they created."
Of course that won't help Alvin for the next year. And all the other people who pick up cans on the side of the road have been stripped of their little living.
Alvin Clarke: "Normally, this street here, there's a regular traffic of people who scrap to eat, and as you see now, there's no one other than me because of the rule that's just been instituted."
Patrick Fraser: "Now, you may have noticed Alvin and others like him use carts that belong to stores. Alvin told us, he just finds the carts outside the scrap metal yards or on the side of the road. And what's he going to do now that the legislature has put him out of business? Apply for a government handout."
Your hopes for resolving an issue about to be canned? Don't scrap your plans. Put the pedal to the metal and call us. Our answers aren't recycled. They're fresh and enlightening. At least that's what I try to tell my boss.