Written tongue-in-cheek in an effort to get people to examine their assumptions and take a closer look at their fellow humans who are holding the signs.
Panhandlers, unemployed and/or homeless individuals who solicit donations from passersby, are a common sight in my city. Some of them routinely stand on the same corner, apparently having staked their claim. We know several by name and make it a point to stop by and donate a dollar or two, a paperback novel, or just to chat. Most are men, some claiming to be disabled veterans, some traveling and looking for gas money, others out of work and soliciting jobs. There is the occasional couple – generally young travelers and the even more infrequent woman, either by herself or with a child or two squatting at her feet.
I’ve never reached the point where I’ve had to solicit donations in this fashion, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t considered it and thought about the courage and strategy it would require. What, I wondered, would be the best corner for panhandling?
You would need an audience that is both temporarily captive, but also changing. I think an intersection with a stoplight might prove more profitable than one with a stop sign. People don’t need to stop long for a stop sign and even if they are compassionate and willing to pause to dig out a buck or two, there’s a good possibility the traffic lined up behind them might not be as kind. At a light people expect to sit and wait- they can’t fault the driver in front for not moving against a red light, and they have more time to wrestle with their conscience and break out their wallet. The panhandler can walk up the row of stopped traffic to make contact with more potential donors and drivers seeing others giving money might be more inclined to do the same. You would want an intersection with a fair amount of traffic – that’s obvious. And I think you would do better if your intersection was near a place where people go to shop or eat. Wouldn’t you be more sympathetic to a poor, hungry person after you’d just blown $20 on fast food? More so than if you spotted that same person near your office building, I’ll bet. Then you’d probably find yourself thinking ‘just go get a job like me!’
Having a dog or other pet (we know a homeless man who has an iguana and another with a parrot) might make people more sympathetic. Maybe they’ll be willing to shell out some money for dog food even if they are reluctant to give money to a down and out person who they suspect will spend it on alcohol or drugs. I’m not sure if having children with you is a good thing or not. While some people might be more sympathetic others might want to report you to child services or the police.
I’d recommend staying out of rich neighborhoods. Billionaires who pledge to give away part of their wealth notwithstanding, numerous studies have shown that poorer people are more charitable. Probably because they can really empathize with the ‘there but for fortune’ aspect of your situation – a thought that would never cross the mind of a wealthy person!
Once you’ve located a corner that has all these qualities, and hopefully isn’t already occupied by someone else, you need to consider the best time of day to work, your attire and the wording of your sign. I vote for mid-day – people are less rushed and are more likely to be traveling in areas where there are restaurants. In the morning they are getting kids to school and themselves to their jobs and in the evenings they are tired and probably stressed. Not the best time to ask for money.
As for attire I’d recommend against dressing up for this job. Business casual is probably not casual enough. Go for worn, but not filthy if you can. If you look too good people will think you don’t need money and if you stink they won’t want to get close enough to hand you any!
In most communities you can’t actually speak to people and ask for money – that’s usually against some sort of harassment ordinance – but you can hold a sign. That’s part of your first amendment right to free speech (odd how actual speech isn’t included in that right). The generic ‘Hungry, Out of work, Anything Helps, God Bless’ sort of sign is fine but (like a great book title) I suspect that a catchy phrase will generate more income. They certainly draw more attention. A Google search of catchy panhandler signs turned up a ton – for example:
- Homeless – Need Money to Buy a Home
- Need $$ for Alcohol Research
- Help Fight Hobophobia
- Obama Aint the Only One Who Wants Change
- Shitty Advice, Only $1
- I’ll Bet You $1 You’ll Read This
And others – many rather obscene and therefore limiting themselves to a particular market segment!
Now that you are all set to go to work don’t forget to put on a positive attitude. People giving away money like to feel like they are making a difference and that they are appreciated. Be polite, even if they just give you the address of the nearest soup kitchen or unwanted advice. Keep it short, smile, and move on to the next customer.
Good luck. Let me know how you do!