And, people making hardly a living give these people money . . .
Over 25 years ago, while working in San Francisco I would pass this guy every morning that was panhandling near my office. One day I stopped a little prior to my office and just watched. During a period of about 3 hours this guy had no less than 500 people pass him, at least half of them gave him money. Every so often I would stop and talk to him in passing and even contributed to his income a little bit. About 6 months later he confided in me that he was making around $200.00 per day, of which he worked 6 hours per weekday during the commute hours. He said that his income doubled during holidays.
And, this guy played his role perfectly, He dressed like he was homeless, appeared unkempt and in need of a bath, often would take some of the money given to him and duck into a nearby fast food place and purchase food which he ate as though he hadn’t eaten in a week or more. He played it up as well as any professional actor could have. And, he was always polite and non aggressive, even helpful at times opening the door for people with their arms full. His friendly demeanor, pleasant attitude, and skilled acting had people that each and every day planned on giving him money. And at no time, did he ever appear drunk or high. Yes, he was a professional panhandler.
To discover a family doing the art of professional panhandling is a new twist though. But, maybe it isn’t. For a long time, professional panhandlers have operated in certain neighborhoods in cooperation with others going so far as to schedule the most senior panhandlers at optimum times and the less senior at the less profitable time periods. I recently saw a young woman panhandling near a bank with a child in a stroller. I have no idea how profitable her efforts were.
Most people feel for the people struggling to survive in our society. But amongst those that really need our help, are those that exploit the kindness of people to get money from them. These people when discovered cause those that are generous to discontinue such generosity because nobody likes to be played for a “sucker” because they care. The professional panhandler doesn’t mind taking your money. He finds no wrong in his actions, believing his victims deserve to have their money taken because they are idiots or fools. If he gets caught, he just sets up his operation elsewhere and in a matter of a few days has his income coming back to him. And we, we give it to him.
Contrary to popular belief, panhandling is a profession. For some, it is a chosen profession and the most skilled actor can earn a very respectable tax free living, usually at a much higher income than those that give him their money. The part most frustrating about these folks, is they are probably also receiving some form of government assistance at the same time. Think about it . . . You make $10.00 to $25.00 per hour. Each day you give one of these guys about $1.00. Collectively he is making $180.00 per hour, which is more than you make in a whole day. In addition he does not pay any taxes on his income. And, he probably gets at least food stamps allowing him to receive free food from the taxes you pay. And because you are compassionate and believe the guy suffering, you will even go so far as to give him money you cannot afford to give and feel guilty if by chance you do not have any money to give one day. We have all done it. And, on occasion been played for a fool.
But it is kind of like not wanting to execute those on death row for fear that we might kill someone not guilty of the offense they are incarcerated for. You almost do not want to stop giving to the panhandlers for fear you won’t give to someone truly in need. Myself, I do not give to anyone that has a set location every day. If he has a set schedule and location he is too organized to need my help, he needs a real job making as poor an income as I do. But, that person that you have never seen before, that really appears to need, I will extend my helping hand. ( And, keep an eye out for them the next day to see if they are making a habit of it. ) In actuality, if everyone would contribute to some of the better local charities and not to panhandlers directly, the needs of panhandlers would have a better chance of being addressed. Or if you really want to help, look for a local church that passes out food to the needy and donate to them. You really do not need to give directly to a panhandler at all. There are services that they are already taking advantage of. Regardless, giving to an established panhandler is you making yourself their victim and probably not a good idea.