Panhandling: Big Business?

Posted: January 22, 2011 by Jay Rasean in BLOG, HOMELESS, PANHANDLING
Aren’t you?

Elaborate signs and catch phrases, singing, dancing, spoken words of despair, or maybe just a sad face and half-filled cup of change. These are the marketing schemes and techniques implemented throughout major city streets day in and day out. I’m not talking about huge corporate enterprises, I’m talking about the person panhandling on a corner, or a subway train car near you. The buck doesn’t stop at panhandling either. No matter where you are, there’s someone trying to sell you something (something you may or may not need).

I don’t have a problem with hustling. I, as well everyone I know hustle in some form or another. I wholeheartedly believe those of us without the necessary tools of survival must hustle to attain the things we need. My only problem is, sometimes it seems these people who are so adamant in getting my loose change, are probably better off then me!

( Lucky for him, the park has a wi-fi connection )

3 reasons why I don’t easily dispense my hard earned currency:

1. Skepticism. I always felt like when I gave my money to some drugged out looking homeless person, that they were going to use every cent to purchase more drugs or alcohol. I do not wish to perpetuate their homelessness and I have no interest in feeding someones habit. ( I got my own beer to buy )

2. Lack of funds. Sometimes, I just don’t have any loose change. “That’s what they all say” says Mr. Hobo. I’m a self proclaimed “Debit Card Head” A person who goes around with no cash, just debit and credit cards. No paper, just plastic. Even if I did have some loose change in my pocket, I may very well need it-and I’m not willing to hand it over. I may need to buy a 75 cent pack of aspirin short notice. ( this city gives me a headache sometimes)

3. My third reason for not handing over my change is pretty much the primary focal point of this entire post. I have always had this strange feeling that this particular homeless person, isn’t really homeless. More skepticism. At the very most, this person may actually be homeless, but may be making quite the living off panhandling and street performances…perhaps more than I am.

Although the bulk of my readers are most likely from New York City, I am aware that some of you are from elsewhere. So If you are from New York…even if you’re are not, I’m sure you know about the overwhelming amount of beggars in this city. I’m not writing off these individuals as con artists, and drug addicts, I understand that many of the people have merely fell on hard times, but I’m still skeptical…here’s why.

This is little more believable…( unless he’s a magician )

There is this one particular beggar who has been a consistent fixture on New York City trains since about 2005 (as far as I know). For six years I’ve watched her go from train car, to train car, telling her sad story of how her husband passed away leaving her and their kids homeless and hungry. Sounds like a pretty sad story huh?

Despite the sad tale, my skepticism caused me to pay more attention to detail. I noticed that every year the reason behind her husband’s death seemed to change. From dying in the world trade center tragedy on September 11th, to a particular ailment or some freak accident. Either she’s been married a whole bunch of times, or she’s not being truthful.

The last time I seen her, she didn’t even mention having a husband. Now her reason for being destitute was due to the current recession! This woman also tried to gain an extra helping of sympathy by showing everyone pictures of her children. Guess what…the picture she used was a generic picture that comes in a wallet when you first purchase it! If all of this isn’t enough to make you believe she’s trying to pull the wool over our eyes, I once over heard her talking to a fellow panhandler about her exploits.

This is just one of many examples of the “Big Business” that’s going on underground. There are also the young candy salesman.

Excuse me ladies and gentleman, please pardon the interruption…My name Jason Wilcox, and I am here selling candy. Not for no basketball team*, but for some money for my pocket. All I have left is M&M peanut and jolly rancher’s fruit snacks

*They used to say the money was indeed for a basketball team, but they’ve gotten more honest saying that is just for their pocket, and too “keep them out of trouble”, a new marketing ploy.

The candy pushers have quite the hustle, they sell candy to train passengers for $1 a piece. They tell a story about how they need money to be able to support themselves, yet most of them are wearing sneakers that cost more then most people’s entire wardrobe, nice try. Good Hustle.

He’s getting that “Ugg” money!

The only street hustle that I fully support is the performing arts. There are many talented people living in New York City who make our train rides much more entertaining. The skillful b-boys, soulful singers, even the Mexican mariachi bands, spice up an otherwise mundane train ride (unless a heated argument occurs ).

Like I said respect a hustle, especially one that is demonstrative of some sort talent. But as far as people just asking for money and tricking me into feeling some sort of sympathy…that is something I frown upon.

There about 24 train lines in New York City transporting 5 million Passenger’s, weekly! Of the 24 train lines there are just under 6500 train cars. Imagine one person spends a week traveling on these 24 train lines. Go further and imagine this person manages to get $1 in each of the 6500 train cars in this week. That’s $6500 for that one week! Assuming there is no police presence, and this person gets little to no sleep and doesn’t go home, wait! I forgot..they’re homeless!!! This scenario most likely won’t occur. (unless I’ve given you guys some ideas…if you try this, I want my cut! )

A more realistic scenario: ( get your calculators ready )

Imagine a person rides the train for 8 hours (normal work day). If they manage to get one dollar from each train car per hour…they would make more than minimum wage! (about $8-$11, some trains have 11 cars instead of 8). If this person does this for 8 hours then the that’s $64-$88, tax free! This a minimalists scenario.

If this homeless individual is a bit more determined, they will take advantage of the lack labor restrictions of those with regular jobs and could possibly work up to 24 hours a day. 24 x $8-$11 equals $192-$264 daily! (work two days straight and you can take the rest of the week off!)

( Video clip from “Don’t be a menace to society while drink juice in the hood”, great example for what I’m talking about )

Obviously there is a trade-off involved when it comes to these scenarios. Any individual willing to make excessive amounts of money panhandling must deal with many unsavory instances. They would have to come up with a catchy marketing scheme, deal with the draining effects of train riding, and the possible humiliation of being homeless.

The world of begging and aggressive panhandling is definitely a big business. Despite the many people who are actually homeless and stranded on our city subways, there are people who are trying to get over on us. Through tactical forms of guerrilla marketing, these individuals are making individuals like myself more and more skeptical. With the growing skepticism, our city will be less likely too support the people who actually need our help. The mentally and financially disabled will continue to be overlooked due to the unwillingness of members of society to believe their stories. Nobody wants to be conned, especially not for their money. 

Thanks for reading!!!


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