Beware the Phony Panhandler
Indigent Panhandler or Con-Artist?
Panhandling or begging of any sort is nothing new and is seen more frequently as people experience economic stress.
However, some people choose to make a living from the panhandling or “flying a sign” than by using available legitimate work opportunities. They prey on the generous support of people at intersections or busy walkways. Who will check up on an individual panhandler like they would a potential charity to donate to?
Clearly, there are many handicapped, who may need the help, But there are also con-artists who like to write a good (fake) story on a sign and blatantly ask for money they could easily earn themselves, if they tried.
Some will clean your windshield and practically demand payment for it (This is particularly prevalent whenever crossing the border from Mexico to the USA.)
From the Horse’s Mouth
Having had an interview from an unidentified panhandler/con-artist, things are often not what they seem (see accompanying sign examples). There are many nuances to the act of panhandling.
It is illegal in some suburbs to panhandle, so these suburbs are avoided by a block or so at least.
Panhandlers often lay “claim” to certain prolific corners of intersections that produce well and become quite territorial about their spot there. My interviewee stated that it was not uncommon for some spots to yield $100 per day or better.
Since panhandlers frequently get to know one another, hot tips are passed on. A fabricated story of bad luck elicits sympathy. Cigarettes are as good as cash often and traded.
The sign stating that money was needed to fix a starter was spent on alcohol or marijuana instead by my interviewee.
Possible Options for Dealing with Panhandlers
I frequently took bagged sandwiches and chips to pass out to panhandlers. Many are alcoholics and eat very poorly. These were accepted with grace and I felt I had no moral stain for providing a panhandler with a substance bad for them.
Also, in the hot sun, particularly, a boxed juice or water bottle is a good alternative.
Of course, many panhandlers are clearly needy or disabled and can use the cash. Many also provide entertainment by playing an instrument, which may be worth a reward to you. Such "street musicians" are often starving artists, truly in need of any resource a listener will provide.
Please comment if you have further ideas!