Ain't too proud to beg
October 10, 2011 2:51 PM   Subscribe

The sign-holders are a minority among the [Detroit's] vagrants and homeless. They're the handful with enough drive and dedication to spend hours standing in one place, making a sales pitch. They could probably succeed at a real job somewhere with such determination. But who's going to hire a depressed guy with three teeth, a felony record and a drinking problem? So sign-holding becomes their career. And it's a demanding one. They have to be sellers of something that's not a product, isn't a service, and has little benefit for the customer other than perhaps inner satisfaction. They have to sell their misery. And though almost none of them have actual jobs, make no mistake — this is hard work. Here are the stories they tell.
posted by mudpuppie (19 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
The discussion about the "advertising" to be interesting. Other approaches don't seem to work as well.
posted by Hylas at 3:30 PM on October 10, 2011

Er, I found the discussion about...
posted by Hylas at 3:32 PM on October 10, 2011

Love the way Detroit Blogger can write human interest stories about difficult subjects where everyone's humanity remain intact.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 4:10 PM on October 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

Thanks for this.
posted by goethean at 4:37 PM on October 10, 2011

The man rolled down his window and offered a quarter, but when she went to grab it he dropped it on the pavement so she'd have to pick it up.

"See, he was sarcastic," says Carmen Calhoun, 44, grabbing the coin off the asphalt. "I mean, I could hear it in his voice. But you know what? I humbled myself."

I... You know, I actually don't give money to homeless folks on the street, heeding the advice to donate to food banks and charities instead, but my mind just boggles at this. Why would someone do that? What motivates a person to wantonly debase and humiliate a stranger like that? What did that man get out of that interaction?
posted by eugenen at 5:18 PM on October 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Detroit Blogger is awesome. It's great the Metro Times started running his stuff, but it looks like if you want to subscribe to his stories you still have to go through his Detroitblog. It's the only news feed I follow of home.
posted by BinGregory at 5:27 PM on October 10, 2011

I once saw a beggar in a wheelchair in Detroit stand up and walk around, and then lift up the wheelchair and throw it into a large white van he was getting picked up in. Made me wonder from then on which ones are really homeless!
posted by banished at 5:32 PM on October 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

On the other hand, one winter my uncle who works for the Detroit Department of Transportation had to check out a beggar in a wheelchair who hadn't left a bus stand for a few days. On closer inspection, the man was stone dead. Chances are, if someone is begging in a wheelchair in Detroit, they are wretched and deserve your sympathy whether they're really homeless or not.
posted by BinGregory at 5:39 PM on October 10, 2011 [14 favorites]

A lot if not most of the signage around where I am look "manufactured" as though they were mass produced
And from time to time I see the person(s) holding the sign being dropped off or picked up by a large van
If you are inclined to give them something I remember in the past a campaign to give them McDonalds dollar gift coupons instead of outright cash.
posted by robbyrobs at 5:43 PM on October 10, 2011

I give them money sometimes. A vignette told about C.S. Lewis by his stepson:

Also memorable was Jack's "enormous compassion and charity". Douglas recalls a story where Jack and a friend were walking to a meeting one day when they were approached by a beggar. The beggar asked them for some spare change whereupon Jack gave him everything he had. Once the beggar had gone, his friend said, "You shouldn't have given that man all that money, Jack, he'll only spend it on drink." Jack's reply - "Well, if I'd kept it, I would have only spent it on drink."

I feel like if someone's bad off enough to be begging money off of strangers and wants a drink, I'll buy him one.
posted by infinitywaltz at 5:57 PM on October 10, 2011 [10 favorites]

A lot if not most of the signage around where I am look "manufactured" as though they were mass produced
And from time to time I see the person(s) holding the sign being dropped off or picked up by a large van
If you are inclined to give them something I remember in the past a campaign to give them McDonalds dollar gift coupons instead of outright cash.

Europeans know all about this. There are gangs of panhandlers run by organized crime, and it's a strictly business proposition - all of it is show, including the women holding infants - they are incredibly skilled and generate a ton of untaxed income; the heads of these gangs are very rich indeed. This is perhaps more complex in Europe, in that the members of these groups belong to a community that's been for centuries strongly discriminated against across Europe, and excluded from the mainstream economy. This has led to all sorts of social pathologies, and criminally organized aggressive panhandling is one of the symptoms. The U.S. is already developing something of a permanent underclass that's disenfranchised on multiple grounds - it wouldn't surprise me to see something like that develop here if things continue as they are. People got to eat, and if they can't make it in the mainstream economy, all kinds of subcultures develop, centered around survival in a hostile and exclusionary environment.
posted by VikingSword at 6:32 PM on October 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

That was a good (sad) read. Mostly I keep thinking of that poor woman who lost most of her family in a fire. And people probably do drop coins on the ground so she has to pick them up.

I guess I am pretty skeptical of sign holders, but I'll still give them a buck if I have one handy. Because what's a dollar to me? And maybe they do really need it.

(That Euro-Beggar Conglomerate described by VikingSword above gives me the creeps.)
posted by Glinn at 8:12 PM on October 10, 2011

Three Penny Opera.
posted by carping demon at 8:15 PM on October 10, 2011

There are a lot of people who really and truly need help out there. More every day in times like these. My experience some years back of being homeless for a couple of years has taught me that the truly needy ones are really outnumbered (and overwhelmed) by at least 3 or 4 to 1 by the scammers , the lazy, the morally (not mentally) disabled , the addicts, and the sociopaths who just want someone else to pick up their tab throughout life .

I know that sounds very harsh but I lived with all these people for a couple of years and I wish I had better things to say but those very hard years taught me that only 25% of panhandlers/homeless at a generous best really are looking for a way out as opposed to just another beer or toke on the pipe.
posted by Poet_Lariat at 9:14 PM on October 10, 2011 [3 favorites]

I saw a guy the other day with a sign that said "NEED FUEL FOR PRIVATE JET". I figured he deserved some change for making me laugh.

I figure if you're hard up enough to stand out in the sun all day panhandling you probably need it more than I do, you know? What have I really got to lose? The only one I won't do is "my family and me are out of gas at the station over there" because I know it's a junkie scam 100% of the time and they'll usually try to hit you up for $5-10.
posted by DecemberBoy at 12:19 AM on October 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Another southeast Michigander here ... Detroitblog is a real treasure, chronicling the life of living people in a dying metropolis. Usually he focuses on one person or establishment. Here's another good one, perhaps best saved for Valentine's Day, but so be it.
posted by texorama at 4:24 AM on October 11, 2011

Eugenen - basically I think small people do that. Gives them a sense of power, makes them feel better about themselves and their tiny lives. Maybe he was unhappy, maybe he's thinking his life isn't really a life, and just a bunch of motions he goes through, and he hates it... Well, himself really, so he takes it out on others.
Short version.
posted by Zack_Replica at 5:35 AM on October 11, 2011

Detroitblogger John has a book coming out soon. Here's the link to the preorder page (sorry, the rest of the publisher's website is not static so can't link the description directly). I'm excited for this even though I know it will make me weep.
posted by lily_bart at 10:18 AM on October 14, 2011

Oh nice job on the cover. That shot of the bicycle club is one of my favorite, and the story too. Ordered!
posted by BinGregory at 10:05 PM on October 19, 2011

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