Austin homeless (or not) man with sign: “Please Help! Tired of pigeon, too slow for squirrels.” Thought that one was a winner, although I don’t think he was really too slow to catch a squirrel. Squirrels are a bit more dangerous than pigeons though. It could bite him, then he might get rabies, and would become an indigent in the healthcare system. I wanted to give him some money just to avoid that, but I was in the middle lane. I would have given him five bucks too. I pay for what I consider to be good signs.
Another sign: “Need money for McDonald’s or Wendy’s. I promise not to buy drugs.” Why not Burger King? Why not SONIC? What’s wrong with SONIC? They both have dollar menus. Maybe he didn’t have enough room on the sign for other choices after his first two. I wouldn’t have given him anything, not clever enough for my consideration.
I saw a lot of these signs in Austin, it’s a warm climate, and you’re stuck in traffic a lot so you become a captive audience. You try not to make eye contact. Many of these signs in Austin were in English and Spanish. “Hungry! Necesito Comer. Anything Helps. Even a Little Change.” This one is a bit confusing. Notice the attempt at a bi-lingual message. For those of you that can’t read English (although I’m not sure how you would be reading this blog) the only part the sign-holder wanted you to know in Spanish is “Need Food”. That’s enough of a message for the Hispanic beneficence I guess. The rest of the sign is directed at the English reader’s potential generosity. Try bringing them actual food, they probably won’t take it. I tried to give a “Will Work For Food” guy a McDonald’s hamburger once and he wouldn’t take it. Maybe he was being careful, thinking I might have poisoned it.
Why are you making fun of homeless people, you’re probably thinking, and Austin homeless people in particular? The Austin part, no reason except I was just there, the other, I have reason. Let me tell you a little story. True story, I swear.
I was in Minneapolis for a conference. Not a lot of homeless people in Minneapolis, climate is too cold. A few of us decided to walk from our hotel down to, well, let’s just call it a bar. It entailed walking in downtown after dark, and then under a freeway to get where we were headed, but, hey, we were saving cab fare.
As we approached the underpass a young man with a cardboard sign approached. I hate being approached by people asking for a hand-out. It’s probably that I’ll feel guilty for not helping, because I rarely do, and probably should. I mean, I had a wallet-full of twenties waiting for the “bar”, and I told the guy I didn’t have any money on me, only credit cards. My companions did the same. The young man’s sign said, “Out of Work. Baby Needs Diapers. Please Help.”
Well, we’d already been drinking a little, probably the only reason you would risk walking under an underpass to a bar at night in Minneapolis, so someone in the group asks our guy, “Do you really have a baby at home, man?”
The guy says, “No. It just works. People feel sorry for me because I don’t have diapers for the baby. I make more money this way.” I noticed his sneakers were pretty new Nike’s. I didn’t own a pair of Nike’s at the time, couldn’t afford them. He goes on to tell us what other sign slogans he uses that “work”. “Homeless. Baby Needs Formula. Please Help,” for example. Playing the “baby” card seemed to be the most effective of his cardboard signs. He had done unofficial studies.
“How much do you actually make?” I bravely ventured.
“Oh, on an average day, I’ll take home eighty to a hundred bucks,” he proudly stated. “Sometimes I have good days, two hundred or more, sometimes less. It’s a pretty good gig, ” he said. That’s what he said, “…a pretty good gig.” A person earning $15 an hour grosses $120 a day, but their actual earnings are much less, as you probably well know; taxes, FICA, 401k deduction, and healthcare deductions. Probably ends up taking home $80 out of that $120 or less. That’s why they call it “take home pay”. It’s the only place you can afford to go with it. How does it feel to know you’re making as much as a “homeless” person with a cleverly worded cardboard sign that someone is reading at a stop light?! And our Minnesota entrepeneur offered that he rarely “worked” a full day.
Makes me feel like shit, and that’s why I don’t give “homeless” people money unless I think the sign is clever. WTF