the bottomline

Do Panhandlers Have Regulars
4/8/2018 9:50:00 AM by: Dan Allen

I finally found some shade at the far–end of the parking lot. It wasn’t the heat, but while Vonnie was shopping in the reuse–it shop, I was going to take a nap and needed to block the bright Florida sun. As I get older, these naps are necessary. There was a day I’d join her to see if someone’s discarded stuff would fit nicely with all my stuff. Don’t think I ever got a deal, but she does. She’s a good shopper. Fortunate to have her.

As the seat went back, I adjusted my Tilley to block–out the sun’s reflection bouncing off passing vehicles when the activity in front of me delayed the nap. There was a panhandler working the crowd of cars. He’d approach a vehicle stopped at the red light holding up his little sign (“Homeless” “God Bless You”) and give a cute puppy–like face making a person who made eye contact feel guilty if they didn’t empty their pockets of loose change.

In my travels, especially in Southeast Asia, I’ve seen this a lot. Often kids, less than ten-years-of-age, come to my car window. They put their five fingers together, tap, and then move their hand to their mouth—as if there was morsel of food between the fingers. They’re hungry and want some money for food . . . or so I thought. I’m sure some are and I have friends who keep extra change in their vehicle to give. But, I’m told that many are working for others, like a mafia scheme (exact words used by one national). These bosses make the very poor do this all day long and then collect the money at the end of the day giving back a stipend (barely enough to live on). Entire families will be out there, although you don’t see dads unless they are disabled. Moms can generate money providing they have an infant in their arms. Some girls will do cartwheels in front of the vehicles. Dads and young boys will often sell balloons, flags or an assortment of other cheap things and knock–offs. 

Although the guy in front of me was not duplicating what they do halfway across the world, he appeared to be having good success. It seems he knew some of the drivers. Someone gave him a sandwich from a local shop. Another tapped her horn as she had an unopened bottle of water . . . or maybe it had been opened. The gal explained something to the fellow. Perhaps, she had dripped some of the water on her hand wash them or poured a swallow into a cup. He gladly took it along with the coins he was receiving.

Oh, he also had others working with him—each at two of the other corners of the intersection. Every now and then there was a confab and then back to their respective spots.

My guy, I learned later, was a Hispanic from New York city. His purple baseball cap read: “Uptown” with “New York” on the bill. He had moved down to the Orlando area, but I couldn’t understand how long ago it was. He was certainly fit and could have gotten a job. In fact, he was working the corner right next to Goodwill. Their building not only sells stuff, but it is a job center . . . doubt that one of the jobs they have is panhandling. Yet, he looked like he was having too much fun working the drivers. He talked to them like my barber does to me. Not sure how much he makes, but I’ve read that some do quite well making decent living. I didn’t ask why he was homeless or even if he was. A close–up revealed he either struggles with alcohol or drugs or both. This is often the case with these fellows. Holding down a job is nearly impossible when an addiction is holding them down.

Jesus made an interesting statement to His disciples who were chiding a woman for “wasting” a bottle of expensive perfume on His hair and/or feet. They noted that this could have been sold with the proceeds going to the poor (and perhaps some in Judas’ pocket—he was a thief, you know). “The poor you will always have with you,” He noted. Elsewhere He instructed to give to the poor, because when you do so—giving to the least of these—you’ve given it to Me (Jn. 12:5; Mt. 25:40).

So, I’m often conflicted—do I give to these guys who could obviously get a job if they’d just get off the addiction or do I ignore them?

I whistled to catch his attention, to which he popped his head up like a prairie dog popping out of a hole. Then hopped–up into the parking lot when he saw the dollar bill I was holding. I wanted to learn a little more about him, but his broken English prevented a meaningful conversation. As he padded my arm which was resting on the window sill, he encouraged me to move down to Florida . . . hoping, I suppose, to have me as one of his regulars.


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