Having always been curious about what would happen if I started busking at the Jackson L stop, this article on professional panhandlers was pretty interesting:
People’s generosity encourages the begging. About four out of ten Denver residents gave to panhandlers, city officials determined several years ago, anteing up an estimated $4.6 million a year. Anecdotal surveys by journalists and police, and even testimony by panhandlers themselves, suggest that begging can yield anywhere from $20 to $100 a day—though police in Coos Bay, Oregon, found that local panhandlers were taking in as much as $300 a day in a Wal-Mart parking lot. “A panhandler could make thirty to forty thousand dollars a year, tax-free money,” Baker says. In Memphis, a local FOX News reporter, Jason Carter, donned old clothes and hit the streets earlier this year, earning about $10 an hour. “Just the quasi-appearance of being homeless filled my cup,” Carter observed. That all the money is beyond the tax man’s clutches adds to the allure of professional panhandling.
Carter prepared for his stint on the street by surfing the Internet, where a variety of websites dispense panhandling advice. NeedCom, for example—subtitled “Market Research for Panhandlers”—offers tips from Baker and other pros on how to hustle. The website’s developer, Cathy Davies, wants it to get people “thinking about panhandling as a realistic economic activity, rather than thinking that panhandlers are lazy or don’t work very hard.”
The rise of online panhandling advice helps explain why panhandlers and “sign flyers”—beggars who use signs to solicit donations—exhibit remarkably similar methods around the country. Currently, the direct, humorous approach is in vogue. That’s why in many cities today you’ll hear some version of: “I won’t lie to you, I need a drink.” Panhandlers also report that asking for specific amounts of money lends credibility to pitches. “I need 43 more cents to get a cup of coffee,” a panhandler will declare; some people will give exactly that much, while others will simply hand over a buck.
If it seems unlikely that a homeless person would surf the Web for advice on how to panhandle, that’s exactly the point: many aren’t homeless and are lying about their circumstances. A reporter for KUTV in Salt Lake City followed and filmed panhandlers for several months, documenting their scams. One twentysomething woman wielded a sign informing people that she was homeless and needed a bus ticket back to Seattle. The reporter followed her one day, however, and discovered that she lived in a nearby suburb. Confronted by the reporter, the woman explained away her deception: “I don’t say anything to anybody. I hold this sign. I don’t make anybody give me money.” Her story isn’t unique: homeless advocate Pamela Atkinson told KUTV that some 70 percent of panhandlers in Salt Lake City aren’t describing their situations accurately.
[ The Professional Panhandling Plague / City Journal ]