Panhandling Story

Your article on panhandling brought to memory a very successful panhandler in Chicago. The man was in his early 20’s and needed money to go through music school. He set himself up on the Michigan Avenue bridge and began playing his saxophone. He soon found out that not only did he have enough money for music school, he had enough to make a very lucrative living. He quit school and continued his panhandling, but still kept the sign in front of him that said, “Need money to go through music school.”

One day somebody asked him how much he made each day on the bridge. He said he made over $300 a day and that he was no longer going through music school. Unfortunately for him, the person who asked this question was a Chicago Tribune reporter and his picture and story appeared the next day in the newspaper. Suddenly he found that many Chicagoans weren’t willing to help him with his lucrative career and he soon found himself with a paltry salary. Soon, I no longer found him on the bridge.

Welcome to the Straight Dope message boards, kenroar1, glad to have you with us.

When you start a thread, it’s helpful to other readers if you provide a link to the Staff Report under discussion. Saves searching times, and helps keep us on the same page. In this case: How much money do beggars make?

No biggie, you’ll know for next time, and, as I say, welcome!

In a previous life I bartended part-time at the local VFW. The “V” was in a rough part of town and several homeless men pitched their tents not far from the bar. They would come into the bar fairly regularly and sit down at a table and make a big show of counting change out to buy a pitcher. Then they would ask me how much french fries or a bowl of chili cost. They would count out the change and hand it over to me.

Here’s the kicker. When they were done with the beer and the food they would walk across the bar to the gambling machines, pull out large rolls of cash and sit there for 2 hours plugging the machines. After the first time I saw them pull that crap I quit giving them extra big helpings of fries.

I’m not saying all homeless people are like this and I am sure these guys had some mental issues, they were living in a tent in January in Wisconsin after all. But with the money they spent in the machines in a month they could have afforded rent on a small place.

It’s a common misconception that panhandlers secretly make more money than honest hardworking folk. As if they finish the day panhandling and drive home to the manson in their BMW.

A lot of cities define as soliciting money without providing anything in return. Busking, musicians performing in exchange for tips, is explicity not pan handling. I recently chatted with a man who takes his concertina to the sidewalks outside high end bars on the right nights. For a brief period each week, he can make $20 an hour. However, he can make that rate for only a few hours each week. Additionally, according to the local police, he is not a panhandler.

This year, at the New Jersey Renaissance Kingdom, I actually made a quarter by busking. It was a bit awkward, because, of course, I was only an actor playing a pennywhistle-playing beggar, but the woman had a small child with her and was obviously demonstrating the Proper Thing To Do, so, rather than refuse, I just smiled, said “thank you”, and dropped the quarter into my purse.

Well, it’s a little more complicated than that. It depends on who is doing the defining. There is a model ordinance that has been adopted by some cities. It prohbits soliciting in an aggressive manner and soliciting at various times and places.

Bose and Hwang

Stark says

Still other research considers any act of accepting money from people–instead of agencies–not for work done as one big category. They distinguish mendicancy from receiving government benefits, labor, theft, prostitution, and selling blood. That sort of thing.

There are some… I’ve seen the couple who panhandle in Ashland, OR. It’s a touristy area and they really can live better than those with minimum wage jobs, even in an expensive area like Ashland. Mansion and BMW, no, but I believe they own their home and have two cars.

I’ll agree, though, that this is the extreme end of the spectrum.

Well that sucks. That ordinance defines busking purely as music. This excludes clowning, balloon twisting, contortionists, dancers, death defying daredevils and mimes.

Now see this is what I’m talking about. You’ve “seen” a couple. What does that mean? Have you followed them home to see where they live? Do they actually live in Ashland? Have you observed them panhandling and monitored their intake of cash? have you investigated whether they are getting any supplimental income from disability, social security or welfare? Food stamps? Do they sell drugs? Forage for recyclables? Do they perhaps live with a relative rent free? Until you study the situation you are just guessing about their lifestyle based on walking past them on a sidewalk.

There was an infamous case of this in the Toronto and Montreal areas last year:

The Sticker Lady!

(Sorry about the sketchy link, I couldn’t find another free listing of the story.)

There’s also Margita Bangová.

Nitpick: One cannot sell blood. Selling plasma is O.K., though.

It’s dangerous though. You can easily get electrocuted smashing open the television. And it’s a pain in the ass to keep the stuff from escaping into the atmosphere.

Not a scientific study, but we have lots of homeless people here. Liberal city, mild climate, etc. I see them a lot, day after day, week after week, year after year, because I get around by bicycle and tend to use the same routes as they’re the less hilly ones. For example, Market Street, Columbus-Stockton and The Wharf. Supplement this with ordinary street stuff, go in-and-out of markets, hanging out at bars, etc.

My observation is that relatilvely few homeless panhandle. Primary source of supplemental income here seems to be collecting soda bottles, which can be tendered for a 3/4/5 cent deposit (depending on size). Considering that it takes about thirty bottles to get a buck, that this activity appeals should give some sense of how lucrative panhandling actually is. My observation of panhandlers is consistent. No, I’ve never stalked one. But, on most days, I have at least one in my line of sight most of the time. It is rare for any of them to get anything while in my line of sight. Sure, I’m moving and have other things to worry about, but there’s no constant ka-ching here.

BTW, like most people I know, I don’t give to panhandlers, preferring instead to contribute to one of the shelters here. But I have long felt that the Twisted Lip Theory was mostly a rationalization for a political view of the homeless. It’s no more fair to judge this group as a whole from a few extreme cases than it is to judge any other group. For example, I’m an atheist, but I don’t judge Christians by Jerry Falwell.

Just to be fair to good old Sir Conan Doyle :wink: , in his short story The Man with the Twisted Lip he made clear that his “beggar” was a trained actor of exceptional wit and intelligence, and thus a very exceptional beggar indeed - a reader of the story would not walk away with the impression that all beggars could make a comfortable middle-class living off of beggary.

In short, I think Conan Doyle would have agreed with you.

I don’t give to panhandlers either.

I lived in uptown Dallas, Texas, for about five years. For those who don’t know the region (and aren’t familiar with the antics of Mayor Laura Miller), the “homeless problem” had gotten so bad that she got the city council to enact not only an ordinance prohibiting panhandling, but also prohibiting the operation of shopping carts anywhere but the parking lots of the stores they come from; obstenisibly, this was to prevent traffic accidents that had apparently become a serious problem to Dallas residents, but most of us knew better. It was another anti-homeless law.

During my time there, I saw many beggars - typically from my car near the intersection of IH-35 and Oak Lawn Avenue - but also close up and within olfactory range at many of the shops and eateries of the area.

On a few occasions, I encountered the same person more than once, claiming that he needed money for this thing or the other; but it was BS. If I gave you money for a bus ticket to get out of town, that really doesn’t explain why you’re still here in the same place two weeks later.

Even worse than the “pity-me-because-I’m-holding-my-dentures-in-my-hand” panhandlers are the down-on-his-luck con artists - people who claim they need a quart of oil or a new air filter or they ran out of gas, but when you offer to head over to Mobil or Exxon to pick up something like this, they decline and insist on money instead.

This is especially irritating when you can see right through their schemes, but now that they’ve accosted you in the dining room of the Taco Cabana on Lemmon Avenue, and you’ve been listening to their spiel for 5-10 minutes… well heck, now my enchiladas are cold, and as you may well know, Taco Cabana isn’t cheap.

I have learned to see them for what they are. My only regret is that the Dallas ordinance does not allow you to set them on fire when you discover their true intentions.

Well, of course there’s a world of difference between panhandling and outright fraud. To me, the bus ticket gambit is a white lie, not outright fraud, whereas I’ll agree the tank of gas or quart of oil gambit is. Frankly, I’m not interested in debating the homeless issue - I simply wanted to comment on the factual issue addressed in the Staff Report - but I find it curious that you are so infuriated at people for being failures. Set them on fire? We don’t even set murderers on fire. We used to throw the homeless in jail as vagrants, but we stopped doing that (IMHO, with good reason) decades ago.

FWIW, no interaction of mine with a panhandler last more than a minute, most less than thirty seconds. If they’re polite, a simple “sorry, no” does the trick. If they’re not, I usually say something like, “do you have any idea how many times we get asked that a day, every day?”

And Malthus, I take your point about Sir Conan Doyle. You may be right. But, it’s a common sentiment.