Panhandling PART III
November 24, 2011
— #addictions, #HCV, #homeless, #newlife, #recovery, #streetlife
Another little known fact is that panhandlers also have ‘classes’ within their ranks. The panhandlers that you meet that are just totally offensive and ewwwwwww or chase you and call you names, they are the lowest group usually working all day to make $20.00. Panhandlers like myself that used the trade to survive were part of the middle class group and a typical day was anywhere between $80.00-$300.00 depending on the length of time we took off to do our drugs. Then there are the panhandlers that do this to make real money and they pull in $400.00 – $1000.00 per day. These are the best of the best but they are also people who have set aside their morals and don’t care about ethical behavior. They are the ones that give you the “I’m from out of town…..and work…..need to get back…here is my address i will pay you back” lines and such.
Needless to say I despised the lower class panhandlers because they are like leaches that will stay and suck an area dry and never move on. Whereas I knew not to stay in one area too long and not to congregate with other panhandlers except on rare occasions. I was constantly aware of maintaining my image and worked with the other panhandlers in the area to ensure we all maintained a consistent image that we portrayed to the public. ‘Down and out but polite and curtious’, was the image we chose and we tweaked it till it was perfect for each of us, modifying various aspects of our image at will.
When it came to the upper class of panhandlers I respected the money that some of them made yet was unwilling to cross the line into their domain. It wasn’t because I couldn’t do what they did, rather it was because they were ruthless and would take advantage of the vulnerable. They didn’t care what lie they had to tell to get money out of you (we are talking $20.00 and over). If you have given $20.00 or over to a panhandler, then you should shake that person’s hand for besting you in the psychological mind game you both just played.
I took pride in being a little bit different. I would wear ragged but clean clothes. I did not smell like many of my counterparts. I ensured I maintained at least three days of grown on my face that was roughly but well-groomed. I was polite, considerate and often times would offer a service in exchange for money, such as pushing grocery carts back in the rain or opening doors. I rarely said much but always looked everyone in the eye and ensured eye contact was made. I also told the truth.
It was easier for me to tell the truth because then I didn’t have to remember a bunch of different lies that I had told a bunch of different people. If I was going to use the money for food, I would say I was going to buy food (or ask them to buy me food); If is was going to buy drugs, I would say that I was going to buy drugs; etc, etc, etc. You see I wanted people to continue giving. I was tired of moving around all the time and want to find one place to sit. So I decided to try being honest and what would you know but it worked. People gave according to what I was going to do with the money and I did my best to ensure that nobody was offended. I even had a few students ‘hang out’ with me for a few hours to see what life was like for me.
Now I would like to talk a bit more about my ‘Spot’ as it is of extreme importance. My ‘spot’ provided me everything, including shelter from the rain and a variety of safe places to sleep. Now my ‘spot’, I should mention here, was a half a mile long. Other panhandlers could ‘work’ sections of my ‘spot’ but if they seen me coming they knew it was time to move on (this was a respect thing, nothing violent involved whatsoever) and nobody ever panhandled close to me unless you were my panning partner (yes we used to partner up if we had a mutual goal for the money such as a motel room to get off the street from the night so we could shower and get a good sleep). It was part of my job to make sure that nobody else hassled you for money.
I would sit, stand or shuffle around my ‘spot’ constantly, my goal was to interact with as many people as possible. I would ask for change once in a while but my image did most of the asking for me and I played the numbers game. Simple logistical statistics mixed with societal perceptions taught me how to dress, act and move.
So in a nutshell I found a demographic that was interested in broadening their own knowledge and thusly were interested in hearing my life story. I also knew that these were the leaders of tomorrow and perhaps my interactions with them will somehow bring about some much-needed changes in the way that people view homeless individuals. I would talk to anyone about anything and had my knowledge picked over by many, many students, teachers and passerby’s over the years.
A simple numbers game. If you ask 100 people for a dollar, chances are at least 1 of the 100 will give you a dollar.
So if you have the nerve, try it out one day. Put on some ragged clothes and spend 8 hours in one general area and ask people for change. You don’t have to give a reason or say anything beyond “could you by chance help me out with some change?”. I guarantee you wil
l be extremely surprised at how mentally and physically exhausting it is to do that type of work. If you keep at it for a while you will start to see the logistical data that determines your success and realize that you are ‘selling a service’ in a way. As a panhandler I supplied people ‘peace of mind’ knowing that they helped someone. Some of them I offered them the chance to boost their own image by providing the opportunity for them to ‘show off’ that they helped someone like me. Others I would tell a story that would help snap them back to reality or put their own woes into perspective. Sometimes all I had to do was smile and let them know that no matter how little the contribution that they made, to me the act meant more than the amount.