The Accidental Panhandler
September 5, 2005 8:50 PM   Subscribe

The Accidental Panhandler I found a great corduroy blazer in a thrift shop and I loved it. I was out handing out flyers to drunk college boys that night in my lovely new coat and several of them each handed me a dollar. When a fifth person offered me a buck I asked why people were giving me money. "Aren't you out here asking for money?" "No. I'm here promoting for a film festival." "Oh! Well that can't pay much." "Dude, they rent me an apartment, a car, fly me all over the country and I make money o'plenty." This guy who'd intended to be generous then turned angry. "Yeah! Then why the hell are you wearing that stupid coat!" He left his dollar and moved on. I was handed three more dollar bills that day and did not protest. Wanting to be true to the lifestyle I'd found myself in, I spent the money on fortified wine. How much do panhandlers really make? Can you possibly make a living at this? How much of a difference does a funny sign make? Will people give to a guy in a banana suit? Does every sign have to say "God Bless?" Important questions. I aim to find the answers. Give me a dollar. God Bless. Panhandling Worldwide
posted by caddis (58 comments total)

 
This was an excellent Frontline investigation from the mid-90s. "The Begging Game" followed several panhandlers -- a family who performed in the subway, an old lady, a guy in a wheelchair who portrayed a clown. The most depressing one was a girl who was out there looking ragged, with a cup, ostensibly collecting for her mom's diabetes. They followed her home - she lived in a high-rise, middle-class messed-up girl, and Mom was fine, until she found out about these shenanigans.

Anyway, I don't mean to highlight the bad egg. The show argued that panhandling is a fairly legitimate way of making a living. And people did all right on it. Not great, but they were getting by.
posted by Miko at 8:58 PM on September 5, 2005


I just got back from China, where a substantial majority of beggars were missing one or more limbs, or had a noticeable and severe birth defect. One was a hydrocephalic child (with mother).
posted by Slothrup at 9:09 PM on September 5, 2005


Irony has two audiences. The one that understands the joke. And one that misses it. This is a joke, right?
posted by MrMerlot at 9:11 PM on September 5, 2005


"I just got back from China, where a substantial majority of beggars were missing one or more limbs, or had a noticeable and severe birth defect. One was a hydrocephalic child (with mother)."

Were any of them dressed in banana suits?
posted by mr_crash_davis at 9:12 PM on September 5, 2005


On the flip side, a friend of mine used to work in downtown Vancouver in the Gastown area. He's a nice and affable guy but a little naive.

When he first started working there, he made an "aquaintance" with a middle aged lady down on her luck who was asking people on the streets for money. He didn't give her any money as he was poor, but as the weeks turned into months, he kept running into this woman. With every week that passed, the deterioration in physical appearance of this woman accelerated.

Apparently she was a meth addict.

Eventually, he came to recognize the panhandlers in the area and commented that the majority of them would go on a downward spiral and eventually - well, not to be seen again. It was the rare exception who lasted and was seen week in and week out without showing significant and drastic decline in health and physical appearance.
posted by PurplePorpoise at 9:15 PM on September 5, 2005


It may have been urban legend in the Seventies, but there was a rumor of a black panhandler in San Francisco who would have a limo come and pick him up at the end of the day. I think this was used as an argument by politicians against welfare and helping the poor
posted by goalyeehah at 9:17 PM on September 5, 2005


You know, this guy got started accidentally, too.
posted by umberto at 9:18 PM on September 5, 2005


This is great, everybody should become a panhandler. Then everyone could panhandle from each other.

For the record, if a panhandler has a sign that says God Bless on it, they get no money.
posted by fenriq at 9:25 PM on September 5, 2005


It may have been urban legend in the Seventies

Maybe, but stories like that apparently aren't always politically expedient urban legend. A comment under the Banana Panhandler post points to the well-documented story of The Sticker Lady, reprinted in full here.
posted by mediareport at 9:35 PM on September 5, 2005


This guy may give his "earnings" to others who need it more (when he's guilted into it, middle of the entry), but he's still a douchebag.
posted by kyleg at 9:39 PM on September 5, 2005


Best line I ever heard from a panhandler:

Can you spare some money for amphetamines so I don't have to sleep on the street?

I didn't give him cash, but I laughed my ass off.

...

There are a few panhandlers in downtown Vancouver who are there 8 hours a day, 5 days a week. Each has their own spot and defend it bitterly. I do know that one of them, a guy in front of Granville station makes very good money. I sat there and watched from about 10 feet away, and estimated that he made around $20/hour.
posted by Kickstart70 at 9:55 PM on September 5, 2005


Anything Helps
posted by Balisong at 9:58 PM on September 5, 2005


Melbourne (Australia) was virtually without beggars (panhandlers being a US english word) until the early 1990s. We had old homeless people sleeping rough, and people that might bludge a ciggie from you, but nothing really else. Then we had a nice conservative government and a recession at the same time, a lot of mentally ill people got deinstitutionalised, heroin got big, and we became a 'world city'. Pretty depressing - and of course the homeless shelters can't keep up.
posted by wilful at 10:17 PM on September 5, 2005


The Sticker Lady is FUCKING annoying. Goddamn she was such a fuckin' pest.
posted by dobbs at 10:22 PM on September 5, 2005


A friend of mine has a view of a grocery store in Vancouver where some "street kids" panhandle. They drive a newish Ford Focus, which they leave parked down the street for the duration of their shift.
posted by showmethecalvino at 10:30 PM on September 5, 2005


It's been forty years since I read it, so forgive me if I can't recall the exact title of the story, but at least one of the mysteries of Sherlock Holmes involved a woman whose husband had disappeared and she suspected a bedraggled beggar whom she had followed. Mr. Holmes and Dr. Watson followed the beggar until they discovered that the well to do gentleman was in fact, the beggar. That was his job. I'm sure someone remembers this story and can supply the title.
posted by faceonmars at 10:56 PM on September 5, 2005


faceonmars, it's The Man With the Twisted Lip. The gentleman/beggar's confession starts on page 11.
posted by mediareport at 11:17 PM on September 5, 2005


I ran into a similar situation a couple years ago while freight hopping with a friend. Though we were both well-paid engineers, we took care to conceal it. We didn't want to come across as a couple of joyriding computer programmers (though that's what we were). So we packed military surplus camp gear instead of REI stuff and kept the GPS receiver out of sight.

After three or four days of sleeping in boxcars and under bridges, our clothes were dusty and stained. My long hair turned to dreads. We probably didn't smell very nice. And the people we met started treating us differently. In Eugene, Oregon a couple of meth junkies invited us to stay at their camp. So we picked up some 40s and spent the night with them. In Portland, the kids selling weed along the waterfront passed us joints. A few months earlier they had ripped us off. And when we sat on the sidewalk to eat our lunch, people handed us money.

The first time this happened, we quickly explained that we didn't need the money. We weren't broke--just traveling. Unfortunately, this refusal seemed to really bother the nice lady who had made the offer. I think she was embarrassed because she had misinterpreted our situation. Also, the response probably caught her off guard.

So the next time someone offered money, we took it. Then we thanked them and and wished them nice day. Later, we passed the money on to someone who needed it.


On preview: fenriq, none of the people we met on the street ever asked us for money. And if we mentioned we just got into town, most were eager to pass on helpful bits of information. Eg. where to find a shower, when the soup kitchen serves lunch, and which corner store sells individual cigarettes. (That store also keeps a razor and shaving gel in the restroom.)

No one we met appeared to be abusing people's charity. Then again, we mostly stopped in smaller cities, and only for a short time.
posted by ryanrs at 11:27 PM on September 5, 2005


BTW, the meth junkie's camp in Eugene might hold some insight into the nature of that drug. The camp was situated in a dry creek bed adjacent to some railroad tracks. It was cobbled together from wooden pallets, carpet scraps, and tarps. From the tracks it looked like a pile of debris that had been washed down the creek during the previous winter. The whole place stunk of urine. BUT--it had electric lights and a televison set.

They must have laid a lot of wire since I don't recall any nearby buildings.
posted by ryanrs at 11:46 PM on September 5, 2005



posted by blasdelf at 11:55 PM on September 5, 2005


oops, no hotlinking, Try Here
posted by blasdelf at 11:56 PM on September 5, 2005


Has anyone seen a survey comparing what people believe about panhandlers and how they (survey respondents, not panhandlers) vote?
posted by pracowity at 12:15 AM on September 6, 2005


Ryan, are you my cousin that just moved to Eugene with Nancy?

Anyway, I live in SF, and there's the famous Bushman at Pier 39 who I've watched make $40 an hour. Then I saw him ride his bike into the garage of an upscale apartment right around the corner. It's a good living for the guy.
posted by Mach3avelli at 12:20 AM on September 6, 2005


Has anyone seen a survey comparing what people believe about panhandlers and how they (survey respondents, not panhandlers) vote?

no, but if you want to generalize, I can garauntee that you're wrong since several of my friends and I most definitely don't vote republican, and we hate the goddamned panhandlers here.
posted by angry modem at 12:37 AM on September 6, 2005


How timely this thread is for me to mention an incident that happened to me yesterday: Here in Dallas, we are providing shelter for some of those displaced by the hurricane and it hasn't taken long for a person here to take advantage of the situation as I was approached coming out of 7-11 by a young man who asked me if I was the sort of person who was willing to help people. After replying with a qualified yes, he proceeded to tell me about how he needed eleven dollars more in his quest to get a bus to Houston and that he had come here from New Orleans, etc.

I asked if he knew where Reunion Arena was (the centralized location for assistance) and offered help to him in getting there to obtain services from them, but he was uninterested.

Opportunism knows no bounds.
posted by sillygit at 1:27 AM on September 6, 2005


You never hear the word "panhandler" in the UK, though most cities are home to dozens (in London, it's thousands). 'Beggar' is the traditional word, though at my son's school the current slang is 'scab'. It used to be that a scab was a strike-breaker, but the rise in beggars has coincided with the disappearance of strikes (and unions).
posted by MinPin at 1:28 AM on September 6, 2005


no, but if you want to generalize, I can garauntee that you're wrong

I didn't say I want to generalize and I didn't offer my opinion. I asked whether anyone had seen any hard data on the subject.
posted by pracowity at 1:59 AM on September 6, 2005


Haven't you been told to fear these people?
posted by dreamsign at 6:30 AM on September 6, 2005


A friend of mine has a view of a grocery store in Vancouver where some "street kids" panhandle. They drive a newish Ford Focus, which they leave parked down the street for the duration of their shift.

Lot of this is New York. They're middle class kids, mostly from the suburbs, sometimes runaways, sometiimes just looking for cash to party. Often called "gutter punks".
posted by Miko at 6:37 AM on September 6, 2005


Winnipeg had an abundance of club kids -- maybe still does. Panhandle till they can make cover charge. Sit right outside the venue.

Van has quite the mix. Worked on East Hastings close to Main so saw the worst of it. Downtown you get a variety: kids, disabled, old, and a bunch of those "car ran out of gas" (evidently every week) people.
posted by dreamsign at 6:55 AM on September 6, 2005


Good God, I'm glad this guy feels entitled to fetishize the lives of people WHO HAVE TO BEG FOR A LIVING. Just to be clear- your lives consist of going to your job/school, going home, eating a meal, and going to bed. Their lives consist of wandering public areas and begging.

(Yes, yes, I'm perfectly aware of "the well-off beggar", but don't let a statistical blip blind you to the larger reality)

Why am I so interested in finding out if panhandlers are secretly living the good life, and earning more than I do working?

However "satirical" the intent, this is just fucking gross. It just feeds the brainwashing meme of "look, these guys don't have it so bad, and hey, they're perfectly capable of getting a regular job, but they CHOOSE this!" The number and nature of its panhandlers are a sad commentary on a culture.
posted by mkultra at 7:24 AM on September 6, 2005


Most street kids don't have a better alternative:

Nineteen per cent of males and 40 per cent of females cited sexual abuse as a key factor leading to their life on the streets, and 39 per cent of males and 59 per cent of females identified physical abuse as a further factor.--from a news report about research by Bill O'Grady.

Also, panhandling, which became a more prominant income strategy for youth after squeegeeing was banning in Toronto, did not lead to improved conditions (as one might expect if it were really all that lucrative):

...two years after squeegee cleaning was banned homeless youth who once heavily relied upon the income from squeegee cleaning are now more likely to be sleeping in more dangerous environments, are more likely to be panhandling, selling drugs (males), and collecting social assistance. (O'Grady and Greene
posted by carmen at 7:26 AM on September 6, 2005


Toronto (government) has a diastrous outlook on the homeless. Witness clearing of the tent city.

Part of this is concern about litigation should something (anything) happen there, but where are these people supposed to go?
posted by dreamsign at 7:46 AM on September 6, 2005


(Yes, yes, I'm perfectly aware of "the well-off beggar", but don't let a statistical blip blind you to the larger reality)

Absolutely true, and I'm sorry to add fuel to the fire. The stories of who does this and why are fascinating, but they shouldn't be used to whitewash the fact that most people are driven to this behavior, not welcoming it.
posted by Miko at 8:01 AM on September 6, 2005


Related: the bottled water experiment (done by a fellow UTexas government major)
posted by fourstar at 8:11 AM on September 6, 2005


I find this story interesting in that people gave the guy money to begin with. I only give food (which is a very good litmus test by the way.) But all this post does is remind me that some people make assumptions about other people based on appearance, and some people like free money.

I used to work for a non-profit that helped the mentally-ill homeless. I met a variety of people there. Some were "beggars". Whether or not they had their medicine was dependent on their case manager, assuming they wanted to take it. Some lived their lives and tried to climb their way out of their hole. Others played Spades with me and were thankful that they had a safe place to go. Some didn't want to work. Some stole. Some drank.

Really, when it comes down to it, people who beg are just people, as varied and independent as all of you. They are in their plight (if they think it such) for whatever reason their life path dictates.
posted by Jenesta at 8:59 AM on September 6, 2005


I am that douchebag.
I'm glad that my site is triggering dialogues like this. That's the idea. I do have great sympathy for the homeless and for the majority of folks that are out panhandling. I also think a-lot of them are funny, charming people, and some of them are tragic and some of them are assholes.
I am not making fun of them, I am making fun of the pervasive Urban Legend that would have us believe that a good percentage of these folks are leading the good life. I knew this was a ridiculous idea but after hearing it repeatedly, I decided to take a humorous first hand look at it and along the way we're looking at panhandling laws, the homeless' 'lifestyle' etc. We're filming a documentary, and I think all the people who are so quick to assume I'm an asshole will actually be glad to see the results of our filming. Time will tell.
In the meanwhile, a Mummy panhandling with a sign written in hieroglyphics is funny. I don't care what you say, it is.
posted by joe beggar at 9:15 AM on September 6, 2005


Welcome to MetaFilter joe beggar.
posted by caddis at 9:31 AM on September 6, 2005


Thanks. I'll be depending on my panhandling for real if I spend anymore time online, but, here I am.
posted by joe beggar at 9:33 AM on September 6, 2005


From personal experience and those of several friends over the years, most panhandlers don't make anywhere near $40 an hour; you'd be lucky to make $40 in three days. Check the rents in the cities where you see the most panhandlers, watch the lines at the Salvation Army shelters, "dining rooms" and so on, and then come back and tell us about all the millionaire bums.

Second, the more panhandlers there are in the neighborhood the less each of them makes -- it's not like people congregate to reward the homeless -- except for those areas or locations where you find out from the police or clean-cut hooligans why nobody was panhandling there before you.

Third, in many cities one can get free food, if you want to call much of what I've been fed "food", but I don't see the Salvation Army handing out alcoholic beverages or illegal drugs. I don't see how y'all who are drunks are druggies can put down somebody else with the same "vices" or "bad habits" you have just because they happen to be not officially employed. Do you think you should go without beer or bong hits just because you're broke? If so, do you doubt you'd change your mind right quick if it ever became your turn?

Fourth, begging on the street IS a job: basically you get paid (if you get paid) to be humiliated, insulted, used as a negative example, and generally to be somebody that damn near everybody can feel superior to.

Fifth, as for the bottled water experiment, a lot of these guys are begging in the streets because they don't have $50 at once to invest or a car to transport the crates of merchandise. Besides which, most cities have laws against unlicensed peddling, and licensing costs money and requires filling out forms and dealing with all kinds of government agencies.

Sixth, I clicked on the link all prepared to be offended but then I wasn't: at least somebody bothered to find out more about it than one could learn by reading fratboy twaddle on a Metafilter thread. mkultra, did you read the site in question?
posted by davy at 11:21 AM on September 6, 2005


Davy, in Toronto there was some controversy recently because a shelter did intend to give out free wine in addition to food. Maybe it was already doing so and the controversy was whether or not the city would pay for it. The idea was to keep people indoors, and provide them with a safe source of limited amounts of alcohol (n drinks per hour.)

The 'outrage,' as presented, was less that this was wrong and more that the city had a budget crisis and shouldn't be spending the money on booze.
posted by maledictory at 11:47 AM on September 6, 2005


Thanks Davy, glad someone got it.
posted by joe beggar at 11:54 AM on September 6, 2005


maledictory, Toronto may have hit on something...if it were legal, I'd cheerfully contribute to provide marijuana to the homeless.
posted by alumshubby at 12:24 PM on September 6, 2005


One thing I do wish is that somebody would update the "e-panhandling" sites or start a spanking new list. Some of these pages haven't been updated since 1998.
posted by davy at 12:45 PM on September 6, 2005


I'm pretty sure you could hand a joint to any panhandler out there without offending them too much. At worse they're likely to say no thanks.
posted by joe beggar at 1:08 PM on September 6, 2005


Wanting to be true to the lifestyle I'd found myself in, I spent the money on fortified wine.

!


I personally feel some contempt for the panhandlers who are completely able-bodied, and make no effor to earn the money they're requesting. I've seen the other side, and it's refresing: smoking cigarettes outside a friend's party, and guy showed up and challenged us to name a doo-wop song he couldn't sing. We didn't know any doo-wop, but he gave us a tour of his repertoire, and we were impressed. We had a doo-wop singalong for an hour, and in the end he passed the hat. He ended up walking away with at least $20, and we were happy to part with it. I personally gave the guy $5 only because I didn't have any more cash in my wallet.

I had a colleague from Brooklyn who insisted that performance was standard practice (anything, from doing headstands to reciting Shakespeare) when panhandling in New York. Can any New Yorkers back this up?
posted by mullingitover at 1:35 PM on September 6, 2005


*effort
*refreshing

I never should've fired my editor.
posted by mullingitover at 1:36 PM on September 6, 2005


mkultra, did you read the site in question?

Yeah, I did. What "joe beggar" fails to realize, IMO, that his well-intentioned hijinks are actually fairly patronizing to those who don't really have a choice about their position, down to the "wacky costumes" and whylieineedadrink subdomain.

I had a colleague from Brooklyn who insisted that performance was standard practice (anything, from doing headstands to reciting Shakespeare) when panhandling in New York. Can any New Yorkers back this up?

No, but there are a disproportionate number of "gimmick" panhandlers here.
posted by mkultra at 2:55 PM on September 6, 2005


I know I shouldn't care, but Kyleg, why do think I'm a douchebag?
I'm doing something that I think is creative while trying to look at a subject that I care about. I may be misguided but random namecalling isn't exactly sophisticated or enlightened now is it.
I'm not asking for a flame war, and I've read why some folks are critical, I respect their views, I'm just curious as to what's behind your disdain for me.
posted by joe beggar at 3:07 PM on September 6, 2005


MK Ultra,
I interact with many panhanlders on a daily basis and have yet to find one that isn't enjoying what I'm doing.
I've been to their camps, I've recorded their stories, and I've gotten to know a-lot of them. Most of these folks who I've met possess a good sense of humor.
I don't intend to patonize them, in fact I'm more patronizing to those who practice snobbery toward them. I think that's evident in my writing.
I'm not some rich guy making fun of the poor. I've lived most of my adult life just a few steps above homelessness, in fact I've slept on many couches while "in between" homes.
With all due respect, I think you're putting a negative spin on this that has more to do with you than me or my site.
posted by joe beggar at 3:15 PM on September 6, 2005


I've lived most of my adult life just a few steps above homelessness

So you'll pardon me if I find that statement a bit at odds with this little tidbit:

I worked as an MC for a travelling film festival for a few years. The job included flyering each town we'd go to. Chicago was my least favorite. I got there straight from California and had forgotten to bring a jacket. This sucked as Chicago is one of those places that actually has four seasons including a couple of real cold ones.
I found a great corduroy blazer in a thrift shop and I loved it. I was out handing out flyers to drunk college boys that night in my lovely new coat and several of them each handed me a dollar. When a fifth person offered me a buck I asked why people were giving me money.
"Aren't you out here asking for money?"
"No. I'm here promoting for a film festival."
"Oh! Well that can't pay much."
"Dude, they rent me an apartment, a car, fly me all over the country and I make money o'plenty."


See, there's a HUGE gap between "living paycheck to paycheck" and actually being reduced to having to beg for your daily bread.

...in fact I've slept on many couches while "in between" homes.

Words fail me. Can you relate to anti-gay violence because the school bully called you "faggot" and beat you up on the playground in fourth grade?
posted by mkultra at 4:13 PM on September 6, 2005


The post you quote from my site describes a time when I worked for Spike and Mike's animation fest. When their season ended I'd go on unemployment and live in my bus for a few months until it started again. Admittedly this was a choice and quite enjoyable, but it's not contradictory with my statement that I was merely a few steps above homeless. I had no money in the bank, owned no property, and had very little security, which is how I lived throughout my twenties.
This doesn't make me able to totally relate to the homeless but it's made it hard for me to understand how folks can put themselves above the homeless and it's allowed me to be a bit more intrigued about what their situation is like than I might be otherwise.

Being beaten up and called faggot is anti-gay violence isn't it? Funny example to choose as I HAVE had the shit kicked out of me by a cop durring a gay rights march. I'm straight, but the lawyers and the Lambda center seemed to agree that I'd been gay bashed. Hmmm?

I really want to shed light on the way these folks are living and that there are more and more people in this situation. I feel that you and I are on the same side on this. I am sincerely sorry that my methods are so disagreeable to you. I am a comedian, and if my comedy doesn't have anything to do with what's going on around me, I'm a hack, when it does, people get offended. Oh well, this is for those who understand. I do hope the documentary will be less ambiguous than the blog, but I'm proud of both.
posted by joe beggar at 4:47 PM on September 6, 2005


What "joe beggar" fails to realize, IMO, that his well-intentioned hijinks are actually fairly patronizing to those who don't really have a choice about their position

Blah. Joe's experiment has nothing to do with uncovering how many panhandlers are and are not in need. His experiment doesn't test panhandlers at all, but the people who give to them.

I interact with many panhanlders on a daily basis and have yet to find one that isn't enjoying what I'm doing

There seems to be a special MeFi breed that enjoys taking offence on behalf of a subject group who really isn't bothered. Tell me again who's being patronizing?
posted by dreamsign at 4:51 PM on September 6, 2005


Thank you dreamsign. Joe, I have one word of advice for you about these sorts of dust ups on MeFi - stop. Just stop responding. You have made your case and most will see that your motives are pure. Some here see the world through funky lenses. You will never convince them of their error, you will only waste time. In its futility, it is akin to arguing Darwinism to a creationist.

You seem to have a great sense of humor and I bet the movie will be both funny and poignant. Good luck with your project and thank you for the website.
posted by caddis at 5:18 PM on September 6, 2005


hey joe, I think what you're doing is interesting and not patronising at all.

Of course, I'm more interested in why an affluent society allows begging at all.
posted by wilful at 5:28 PM on September 6, 2005


Of course, I'm more interested in why an affluent society allows begging at all.

What do you mean?
posted by joe beggar at 5:46 PM on September 6, 2005


a Mummy panhandling with a sign written in hieroglyphics is funny. I don't care what you say, it is.

Yeah. Yeah it is.
posted by dejah420 at 8:23 PM on September 6, 2005


I was homeless for over a year, and I think this is pretty funny. Among the homeless, at least the ones I knew, which is admittedly a pretty self-selected group, there is a kind of sick gallows humor that is pretty pervasive. You need to have some sort of a defense mechanism when things get that stressful, and for many that mechanism was humor. So it doesn't surprise me at all that alot of the homeless he meets think this is funny. They are also some of the most friendly and interesting people I've met. When all you have left is your humanity, you tend to value it - your's as well as others' - that much higher.

Also, a few points of anecdotal clarification:
1) Sometime somewhere there was someone who made a decent living begging for "charities" and keeping the money. Great. I lived on the streets and in shelters and I saw the same people day and night. Sure, new people arrived - kids who ran away from abusive homes, drug addicts who got evicted - and old people went away, but I've never met a panhandler who commuted.
2) Yes, some of the people you see panhandling are able bodied - but that's the key word. Very, very, very often it is not their body that keeps them from working, its their mind. The incidence of mental illness among the homeless is staggeringly high and insultingly poorly addressed.
3) Yes, a good portion of the homeless people you see end up that way because of drug or alchohol abuse or the contingent effects thereof. This usually reflects a lack of available treatment options more than an actual desire to become a homeless junkie, but that's a whole other issue. The real point is that if you have a personal issue with giving cash to the homeless (as I do with a particular few "regulars") then offering food, old clothing, or even just an attentive ear is often just as welcome.
4) And finally, yes, I am forced to admit that there does indeed exist a group of self-imposed homeless for whom living "off the grid" and so forth is a lifestyle choice: the so-called "gutter punks" and their ilk. I didn't really associate with them, as they tended to be pretty insular, preffered dumpsters to soup kitchens, sidewalks to shelters, and generally making their existence as obvious as possible to the pigs whose wanton wastefulness they were living off of. They are making a political statement, which is all well and good, but it wasn't really my bag at the time. If you feel like they don't deserve your money, fine, but understand they repressent a small minority.

Regarding the criticism of Joe: I think it is a pretty universal human trait that people will respect you if you try to walk a mile in their shoes, rather than simply preach on some message board. Joe actually went out there and talked with actual homeless people to find out what their lives were actually like. Try that, and then maybe come on back. The commenters with some experience in the area - the former counselor, etc. - didn't seem to have much of a problem with it, right? It's like when you go to a foreign country: you can either yell at people in English, or you can get out your phrase book and mangle the hell out of their beautiful language. Yell in English, and you'll probably just get yelled back at in French. Try it in their native tongue first, and even if you fuck up, look like an ass, or accidentally say something insulting, most people will appreciate the effort, smile, and answer your question in English. Maybe at first Joe looked like an idiot or was mildly insulting, but that he was putting forth the effort to interact with people on their level is worth a thousand times more than simply wagging a righteously indignant finger at him from the comfort of your home office.
posted by ChasFile at 12:43 AM on September 7, 2005


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