Begging on the Side of the Road

By Brad H.

Have you ever seen those guys on the side of the road at freeway off-ramps or busy cross streets holding up a sign that reads something like “No Job. Hungry. Will work for food or money” and wondered who they were? At least some of them are like me because I was there once.

It was a few years ago when I had gone through a acrimonious divorce and lost my job at the same time. The combined result was that I found myself both homeless and penniless and wondering how I was going to survive.

I made the decision to stand on the side of the road with a sign asking for help. It wasn’t a proud moment, but sometimes you have to do what you have to do. At the time, it was one of the few ways that I could earn money to advance myself to a better place.

When I began, I assumed that I would work for the food or money, but it soon became apparent that I would earn most of the money from people generous enough to give me a few dollars. Most days nobody would offer me actual work even though I offered with each donation given. It also became apparent that you could earn a decent amount doing this. I usually left with over $100 in my wallet after a day holding a sign.

I would get work offers from time to time and I always took these when offered them. The work varied, but usually was manual in some way. I always worked for what the person offered and most times this was fair.

Earning money this way came at a price. It doesn’t take long to realise that standing on the side of the road asking for help makes most people really uncomfortable. It may not seem like a big deal, but it takes a lot of energy and stamina to keep going when you know that most people would rather that you not be there and disrupt their drive.

I did not waste the money that people gave to me. I was able to save enough to get an apartment, get a job and get myself back on my feet.

I’m not sure I could have gotten out of debt without the help of others. I ended up doing something that I never imagined I would need to do, but sometimes when life throws curve balls you need to make tough decisions. I would never encourage someone to stand by the road if they didn’t need to, but I would also not discourage someone from doing so if that is what they need to get back on their feet.

Do you have a story about saving money or earning money that you’d like to share? We’d love to hear about it.

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12 Responses to Begging on the Side of the Road

  1. Paula says:

    Great post! I will admit to being one of those people who are uncomfortable with someone on the side of the road with a sign begging for money. I don’t live in a big city, but where I live I see a lot of people doing this. I used to work in a grocery store and would see a lot of beggars come in and purchase alcohol and cigarrettes with the money people gave them. Of course, there are people such as yourself you actually used the money for food or saved it to better themselves, and I did see regular customers who begged and spent it at least on food.

    About ten years or so ago, I was on vacation with my husband in Washington D.C.. A woman came up to me and asked me for money so she could get her children something to eat. I offered to buy her some food as there was a fast food restaurant close by. She got upset with me at that point, even though I gave her $5 anyway. She walked off and said she needed a smoke!

  2. Broken Arrow says:

    I am glad to hear that you are willing to consider all options in order to get back on your feet. And I think legitimate panhandlers really do deserve sympathy and assistance.

    That said, there are also professional panhandlers. People who, rather than attempting to get a job and truly become a positive contributor to oneself and society. They often time have no moral qualms taking advantage of people’s good will. Some are aggressive drunks and drug users who does not wish to rehabilitate. Some are also very aggressive, and is also not above petty crime if that’s what it takes to get money.

    These people are out in specific roadsides all the time. My favorite one is this guy who is out with crutches and a cast, but when “lunch time” rolls around, he would take off his cast, and casually walk across to a nearby McDonald’s to take his break.

    Professional panhandlers hurt everybody. It hurts society by fleecing them through their generosity, and it hurts those who genuinely deserves our sympathy and help. I hope that people will be careful with these con artists, but also be giving to those who need our help.

  3. Monkey Mama says:

    Reminds me, on of my small town relatives said to me once, “Of course you would give money to any beggar you saw.” Living in a big city I said, “I don’t think so!” I mean – you’d be broke. I couldn’t possibly give money to every beggar I saw, every day of my life.

    But I agree with BA – what I primarily seen is professional panhandlers. Most the people who hold “will work for food” signs have no intention to work. & unfortunately that hurts people in true dire straits.

    There are some truly homeless people who do hold up signs at the corner by my office and who do actually accept food. I never see very many people handing money over.

    The other day there was someone standing at the freeway exit by home, with a sign. I saw THREE people hand this guy a wad of cash. Like every car in front of me. I was thinking the people by my work need to relocate! In a location where there are always panhandlers, I think people get used to it, or tired of it. In a “new location” people were very generous.

    No doubt generous people can make all the difference in someone’s life. I just won’t be one of those generous people with all the scammers I have come across.

  4. fern says:

    I don’t give money to beggars or homeless people becus the vast majority became that way becus they’re alcoholics (or druggies). They’ll use that money to buy a bottle of booze.

  5. Yvette says:

    What a touch story. We all go through bad times from time to time. I can appreciate that you did what it took to get yourself back on track. Too many of us just give up.

  6. sybille says:

    I personally do not give them money but will stop by and give them something to eat. I even invited a homeless person to McD’s with me and encouraged him to order what he wanted. He seemed very appreciative. You are right in saying there are enough homeless people who say they will work but in reality will not. A lot want money for alcohol/drugs and a lot don’t seem motivated beyond those vices. I hear you can make pretty decent wages if you can get past the pride “thing.”

  7. Bobby says:

    Good and sobering post. Ran into a well-dressed man carrying a suitcase at LAX over holidays whereupon he spun some sort of story about losing all his money. He carried a suitcase and asked me for five bucks to get to his hotel.

    I suspect he wasn’t on the up and up. Great to hear you turned your life around.

  8. lizajane says:

    Thanks for posting. I get uncomfortable too, not just for me but for the person there. I think that would be very humiliating. And then I wonder….is it for real, or just a “day job” that provides tax-free money? And then I think that it HAS to be for real, because otherwise why would anyone choose to do that?! And then I wonder…are there people that would choose that. And then I wonder some more…and then the light changes.

    Glad to hear you used the money wisely and best of luck.

    If you’re in a position financially now to help out, do you find you’re much more willing to than you were before? Or is it the same?

  9. Steven says:

    Great post.

    I live in a city with a large homeless population. I give what I can and what I don’t judge. What the people do with the money is their business, not mine. My concern is how I feel at the end of the day.

  10. Andrea says:

    As a woman, I would have been worried about work conditions. Just as there are scammers out there who will take money “for the kids” and buy booze, there are folks out there who would offer a job and then … well, you know. And it isn’t *just* targeted at women. I wish there was some legitimate day-labor pool (not just standing around at the street corner that “everyone knows about” or holding a sign on the side of the road).

    That said, good for you — you have honesty, guts, and a good ethic.

    I’ll usually offer food–often I keep a stash in the car, and I am always picking up can openers at garage sales or Freecycle and offering them with the food. What good is a can if you can’t get at the contents? The only people I give money to are the police or firefighters during their drives. Some of it is because I want my contribution to be meaningful, but a lot of it is that I just don’t carry cash; it is rare for me to have even $5 in my purse. All the same, I would rather give and be taken advantage of now and then if it means that I don’t turn away a legitimate need that I could meet just because I am afraid of being “taken.”

  11. Susan says:

    Very cool. I’m glad to know that a few of the people asking for money put it to good use. I enjoy helping when that’s the case.

  12. I almost never have cash on me. Growing up one of the news stations did a story on the panhandlers in town. They spotted some professionals and followed them back to their 2 story home and nice cars. They then put up their pictures everywhere. Because of the story i
    no longer give cash. I will drive em to Labor Ready if i have time.

    There are day labor companies such as Labor Ready or Labor Finders. You might not make as much as standing on a corner and there might not be work everyday. Either way it is safer and more legit than standing on the corner.

    There has only been once i wanted to give someone money. I once saw someone on a street corner in a suit. His sign said “No money – I want a job!” He heard Metallica playing from my car and asked me to turn it up. He did accept some food (it was lunch time). I did not have any money but i would not be surprised if he had turned it down.

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