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Are Homeless Family's Help Pleas Too Familiar?

March 16, 1985|GLEN BURKINS | Times Staff Writer

The plight of America's homeless has become a major social issue in recent years. And while some argue that government is not offering enough assistance to the poor, others contend that aid is being abused by the undeserving.

The latter claim is all too familiar to Keith Leisey and his wife, Terri. Many times they have been accused of abusing the system for their own financial gain, an accusation they deny.

The couple, now in San Diego, said they receive more than $900 a month in federal assistance for themselves and their four children. But people who knew them in other cities say they have collected thousands of dollars from citizens who thought the Leiseys were broke.

A television news editor in Waco, Tex., said the Leiseys arrived in that town almost a year ago and immediately called the station to request financial assistance from the public. Public support was overwhelming, KWTX assistant news editor Judy Krueger said. But, soon after the couple received the money, they left town.

She said several people saw the telecast in neighboring towns and called the station to report that the couple had collected money in other cities.

"The reporter who did the story had given them money, she felt so sorry for them," Krueger said. "I wish we had looked into it more."

It has been confirmed that the family has collected money in Waco; Killeen, Tex.; Pittsburgh and Sacramento. Residents claim that, in each case, the couple asked a newspaper or television station to plead their case to the public and also collected donations on the streets.

Terri Leisey, who said she has not worked in three years because of the children, admits the family has accepted money in different towns, but, she added, they never asked a television station or newspaper to feature them. She said they accepted the money because their welfare checks were lost and they had nowhere to live.

"We are not bums," Leisey said. "I want a job. I just want to get my kids off the streets."

The four children, including twins, range in age from 2 months to 2 1/2 years.

The family collected more than $1,500 in Sacramento after station KCRA featured them on an evening newscast three years ago, Leisey said. They said they have collected about $130 in San Diego.

Although Leisey said she could not recall clearly what the money was spent on, she said it all went to family needs.

KCRA news director Pete Langlois said he could not confirm or deny the claim because the event happened too long ago.

The San Diego Police Department has received several complaints from merchants who resent the family sitting in front of their shops, but police officials said there is no law prohibiting the couple from collecting money in that manner.

"I don't think they have broken a law," said public relations officer Richard Carlson. "We don't have vagrancy laws any more. It's not illegal to be poor. If people voluntarily give them money because they look poor, then no law is broken."

The family has not been on any TV or radio stations in San Diego to plead their case.

Officials from the state social services office said they do not think the couple is guilty of child neglect as long as they provide food and shelter for their children.

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