The Diary of a Compleat Panhandler
By F. William Bracy
Ventura County Local Politics -- November 27, 2010
There will always be those among us who feel – due to lack of in-situ experience – that they are more enlightened on the subject of homelessness than they really are. Some even end up in positions of power and decision-making, bringing with them a kind of class warfare mentality that does nothing to ease the situation, but in fact has just the opposite effect.
Furthermore, one cannot travel anywhere in the world without encountering the poor, the downtrodden ... the panhandler. As we write this the U.S. economy is losing ground at an ever-faster rate to the economies of China and India, with the main reason being, it could be argued, that the still-largest economy in the world does not view its growing “underclass,” as an untapped resource – a human resource. China, on the other hand, has had no problem in seeing its legions of peasants as the very mother-lode of its economic and political power.
America is so in love with success and those who have it, that they've begun to assume that those who don't have it are incapable, as humans, of ever rising above their shortcomings and failures. None are more certain of this than those who have begun to think of themselves as the meritocracy – an ancient plutocratic world view that is attempting to make a comeback just as several centuries of enlightened Renaissance thinking has finally begun to take hold.
Well as males we've come to learn that when all else fails, read the instructions … so what we'd like to do now is share an opportunity with others. Panhandling is an ancient craft and it must be understood that based on the type of boom-and-bust capitalist system we have set out for ourselves (bedrock of the American conservative mindset) panhandling is not going away of its own volition any time soon. We can criminalize it just as we have tended to "criminalize," if you will, everything else that is deemed bad for business, which is how we find ways to take an intrinsically victimless crime and assign probable cause to it.
Businesses are entities just like humans, or so says the U.S. Supreme Court, which of course means, then, that doing anything which harms business is the same as harming another person. The only fly in the ointment here is the fact that it isn't true. It's all legal mumbo-jumbo designed to divide and conquer just as we were taught to do by Alexander the Great. So you see, if you can figure out ways to harm business, you've created an entirely new class of crimes with only one thing lacking – the incalculable factor of human compassion, (1) for life, and (2) one for another.
And suddenly … here we are being led through the legal system right back into panhandling in its institutional form, and the criminalization of such. Clearly panhandling hurts business, so why aren't the offenders being thrown in jail? Compassion, maybe? “There but for the grace of God go I?” But something isn't working here. How does a business entity take on the grace of God?
Someone has taken this to its logical extreme and created something really special from it. We're not sure what the author was thinking, but we've decided that this was written as a “business friendly” form of panhandling. Unfortunately, if you happen to be a business entity, you probably won't be able to appreciate the compassionate lighter side of the article.
How to Panhandle(see Note)
“A panhandler is a person who depends on the spontaneous charity of strangers for their survival. In some parts of the world, begging is the only alternative to starvation, especially in the context of a poor economy or an oppressive government; in other parts of the world, panhandling is illegal because of its association with addiction and irresponsibility. You never know when you might have to ask strangers for help, whether you've been mugged in a foreign land, and need enough money to make it home; or life deals you a particularly harsh hand of cards (like abuse, disability, illness, war); or you become so dissatisfied with your existing options that begging seems like a better alternative.”
[Comment] So far, so good. Requisite stereotypes? … check. Poor economy? … check. Oppressive government? … check. Addiction and irresponsibility? … check. Better alternative? … check. [Ed.]
The article goes on to give the reader nine specific steps in its guide to becoming a successful panhandler. We'll cover the highlights:
- Suck up your pride and be humble. Actually, we know quite a few folks who could stand to heed this advice, and they're not even homeless. We do notice something, however. They tend to align themselves both politically and philosophically with egoism – a technical term to describe those who have no problem with inverting the noun/verb progression above.
- Understand the philosophy of giving. This goes back to something most Christian children are taught in Sunday school – It is always better (and more holy) to give than to receive. and that in spite of appearances, you are worthy of being gifted by strangers. Churches have turned this philosophy into a science, don't forget. Looking at the architecture of many churches one wonders if church deacons haven't realigned their priorities along these lines as well.
- Put your best foot forward. If you don't have a best foot, at least wear shoes.
- Get your message out. It's the sign of the times, and it's no time to be timid. Look at all the big corporations that are getting huge handouts. Why? … because they scream the loudest about “poor me” and “give us the money … we're too big to let fail!” Well, y'know what? … you're too small to let fail! There's a poor me in you, too, don't forget. Get that cardboard sign and give 'em the saddest sob story you can. And remember – if the biggest banks can go begging, so can you.
- Stake out your territory. Now this is where the rubber really hits the road. Any fat-cat banker will tell you you've got to follow the action, and for him that means only one place – Wall Street. So create in your mind the idea that there's a Wall Street out there for you also. You could either:
- [A] Uncover the dividends in foot traffic. Small stores are probably better than big ones for enhancing your bottom line. OR
- [B] Discover great yields at the curb. Walking down a line of stopped cars could be a great way to bump up profits.
- Put on a happy face. Making money is all about appearances, don't forget. On the one hand you want to look pleasant, but don't overdo it. If you're finding it difficult to get just the right “look,” practice in front of a mirror with the corners of your mouth turned up just slightly. The expression will be perfect when you capture the look of your local banker standing in front of Congress with his hat held out and thinking, “Sucker!”.
- Use your voice for sympathy. Again, always be thinking about how the “big boys” do it. True, you won't be able to board your corporate jet and take off with your tale of woe to Washington, but you can do the next best thing – take off on a new course of honesty and integrity, proving once and for all that those big boys “ain't got nothin' on you.”
- Feel the love. Make sure you go “above and beyond,” as bankers like to say, for your repeat customers, because just as in any business, they'll be there to pull you through the tough times. Truth to be known, many will themselves be hailing from the school of Hard Knocks, and may even have walked a day, week, month or year in your shoes.
- Easy to be cold, but don't do it. Instead, show your appreciation to everyone whether or not they show their support.
A high percentage of panhandlers are alcoholics and drug addicts. When you give them money, you are enabling them to seek their drugs of choice. Don't believe what is written on their little cardboard signs like "will work for food.” About 10 years ago […] I drove around the city and passed out 200 of my business cards where I had taped a quarter on the backside of each, [explaining] who I was and […] to call me for work. I did NOT receive ONE phone call. So […] stick around for an hour or two and you will witness watching them walk to the nearest convenience store and buy beer or […] walk to the nearest crack house. I actually find this article quite amusing and I am confident that the author of the article is trying to play a joke on all of us. (Posted in July 2007)
Do something positive for both the Pan handlers and yourself. DO NOT give them ANY money. It will only keep them in the drug and alcohol state the live in. Yes there may be some folks that are truely in need, however you won't find them on a street corner. There is lots of work out there that can feed and house you. (Posted in July, 2007)
Frankly, I think people need to stop giving handouts all together. By not giving handouts, you're showing panhandlers, bums and vagrants that they can't leech, and maybe when that happens they'll realize that they need to get a job or go hungry. It's really all up to them. (Posted in August, 2007)
Funding street leeches is an insult to both parties. I worked my way through school, hold a job, manage responsibilities and my money...why should I give the money I earned to someone who does none of that, but rather chooses to spend his day begging others for handouts. It sickens me to hear stories of bums in larger cities who pull down $30,000 or more a year by panhandling. Those people are basically professional panhandlers, making more than workers above the minimum wage, professional waiters and service workers. I'll have no part in it and implore others to follow suit. (Posted in August, 2007)
A good article. I understand why people don't like pan handlers. Many panhandlers are just selfish bums who refuse to contribute to society to pander to their own "lifestyle" and sense of entitlement. But many do so out of legitimate desperation. I've never been that desperate but I've been close. (Posted in August, 2007)
I am a 64 year woman. I am going to panhandle. I worked all my life but due to health problems I just can't anymore. I have never ask for anything like this before. I hope I make a little bit at it. I am going to get my ss check now. But medications cost and I need more. Wish me luck. (Posted in October, 2008)
I live in a city in which you meet loads of panhandlers everywhere you go. The government is trying to stop this, so there have been placed banners around the city, whose purpose is to discourage people to give money to panhandlers. They say a beggar earns about $1600 a month. Now I don't really believe that, but I agree that begging for money is too widespread around here and it should be stopped. (Posted in November, 2008)
[T]o everyone who says it is so easy to get a job we have put in literally hundreds of applications. and what are you supposed to do while you are waiting to get that job . you still have to eat and the bills have to be paid. I have had to do some panhandling. We, my children and myself, do not smoke, drink alchol, do street drugs, or steal. I spend most of the money I make on food, gasoline, laundry quarters, auto upkeep (yes we do have an old van, we do not drive a cadillac) At least when I panhandle I have the dignity of going into a store and picking things my family can use that I can't get at a food pantry or a soup kitchen like milk, fresh fruits and vegetables. But untill one of us gets hired […] we are very close to being out on the street. (Posted in November, 2008)
tell beggars year after year how useless they are and how they are just to lazy to get a job and eventually they will believe you and loose what little selfrespect they had left and turn to drugs/alcohol to numb the pain and humiliation. (not that i'm a fan of the ultrasoft approach. i've seen it fail to many times,mostly thanks to the good samaritan only being in it for her own ego and not to really help anybody) but apperently a lot of people on this site try to ease their fear of one day ending up on the streets by convincing themsleves that only lazy worthless people can ever lose their house. (Posted in January, 2009)
I have always given money to people standing at the offramp or near a redlight because I have always thought, that even though some of these people may be too lazy to work, that some of these people may truly be in need. I work a full time job, but have been on the internet the last few days doing a Google search for begging for money. I felt like a bum at first, but I'm not. I'm just desparate. I cannot come up with enough money to pay my bills and I'm sick of all the phone calls. I would just like to get one good nights sleep without worrying about how I'm going to pay everyone. I can now understand why some of these people panhandle. And, unless you are in their shows then you really shouldn't judge them. (Posted in January, 2009)
Interesting. (Posted in April, 2009)
Give the bums a dime (more if you can). Will it kill you to help some one in need? How do you decide? Sometimes you can't. Have a heart. Remember, what comes around, goes around. Karma. Love the other. (Posted in April, 2009)
Anyone who says this is a joke or ridiculous need to stfu. How would you feel if you ACTUALLY needed money and all you could do is beg? (Posted in May, 2009)
I found myself in this position, I did not panhandle but I did lose my medical and dental insurance and I have now lost many of my teeth due to the fact I needed oral surgery when I lost my job [which was] eliminated because of no funding. I have skills but people judge me by my mouth. Not every one is a strung out addict. In my state, there is no affordable help for addicts/alcoholics, treatment requires insurance or cash. Let's not be so quick to judge and condemn. Even the very mighty have fallen, and never say never. (Posted in May, 2009)
A panhandler approached me as I walked to my car after work. I [… ] pulled my coat back [… ] as I would have if carrying the pistol I typically have [… ] but he said "my fault" as [...] he walked back the other way - and quickly. I don't have a problem with people begging in a stationary position. Don't approach me […] and I might even toss some change in your cup. Act like a threat and be dealt with as such. (Posted in February, 2010)
People are totally out in the woods here. You can either support panhandlers by giving to what you perceive as a worthy cause (the physical comfort of another human being) or you can decide that the cause may not be as "worthy" as you'd like -- but you can't do both. Once you part with the money it's no longer your money. Furthermore, once you've given the money you have no moral right to second-guess the situation. Let's use an example that's a little less obvious than the usual ones being discussed here.
Let's say you're in a supermarket -- in the liquor section, perhaps – when a stranger approaches and asks for five bucks because he's "a little short on his checkout bill." His grooming isn't the best, you notice, but he's got a shopping cart with many of the items you yourself would buy. It crosses your mind that he's also shopping in the liquor department (and so are you, by the way). Are you going to look at him and think, "OMG, he's going to buy beer (or alcohol) with MY $5.00!" If this turns you off, you have only one choice -- walk away. But if you decide otherwise -- even with misgivings -- you have no moral right whatsoever to say, "I'll give you the five, but only if you don't buy alcohol."
And don't forget one other thing -- he's clearly not making any moral judgments about your alcohol use.
Instead of concentrating on other people's unhealthy drinking (or smoking) habits, maybe you should periodically be asking yourself the question, "How much alcohol (or tobacco) have I been consuming lately?" (Posted by Yours Truly in November, 2010)
There's a recurring theme throughout these comments and also coming from the public at large -- including most of officialdom at the local level, by the way. The theme is false and it's a sad commentary on the state of American values and the system of justice in this country. The theme is simply this: "Most if not all panhandlers are nothing but bums, alcoholics and druggies, and they need to go out and get jobs."
Excuse me? ... correct me if I'm wrong, but if it's true that a high percentage of panhandlers are alcoholics and drug addicts, then they're almost certainly not capable of passing an employment screening test or holding down a job even if they were to pass. Has anyone ever thought of that?
(1) Read the full article at http://www.wikihow.com/Panhandle.