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FORTWORTH Fort Worth police arrested David Ford for panhandling Wednesday. Thursday, he was back with his sign at Horne Street and Interstate 30.

'They give you a $300 ticket I can't pay,' he said while sipping on a drink he bought with cash from a motorist.

He said he spent about eight hours in jail, saw a judge and was declared indigent and released.

'I got 86 tickets,' Ford said with a shrug. 'About $46,000 in tickets. Tickets and fines.'

Well spoken and appearing sober, Ford said he graduated from high school and has some college credits.

Perry Avila, Ford's friend, said he was arrested twice Wednesday. Records showed Avila received 10 tickets and was arrested three times for begging since September. Avila said he pleaded guilty.

'I was guilty,' he said.

Both said they take insulin for diabetes and have been treated for bipolar disorder. Both said the tickets and arrests would not deter them.

'I made $40 yesterday,' Ford said.

But, the next time they're arrested, it could bring them to the attention of the Tarrant County Homeless Coalition.

'What's prompting the arrests is trying to change behavior,' said coalition director Cindy Crain. 'But, for persons with mental illness or severe addictions, it's not changing their behavior.'

Crain said she plans to meet with police next week in an attempt to better match law enforcement with social services to solve deeper problems.

Crain hopes Brett Burnett is an example of how that might work.

WFAA went looking for Burnett last week because of his frequent arrests. He too was hauled to jail twice in one day. WFAA found him holding a sign at one of his known favorite intersections.

After an hour sitting on a sidewalk in the sun, Crain convinced him to meet an outreach team. But, when she went to pick him up Monday morning to bring him to a mental health center, he was nowhere to be found. She panicked, but soon got a call that Burnett had checked himself in.

'I just broke down crying because that's a success not often experienced,' she said Thursday. 'Brett is doing really well. It's very unusual for someone to willingly go into rehab.'

It's much too soon to predict at this time, but for now, accidentally or not, the decision to start arresting panhandlers has led at one to seek a future off the streets.

Email jdouglas@wfaa.com

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