Saturday, June 9, 2012
How Much Does a Panhandler Really Make?
You've heard the stories, man panhandles and then someone sees him jump into his brand new BMW and drive away. Woman panhandles and someone followers here to her $500,000 home in the suburbs. A couple in Oregon make up to $800/day panhandling in a Walmart parking lot.
There are people that really believe people get rich panhandling. Like anything in life there are always those extreme examples but more often than not the people you see panhandling are not living the good life and I'll tell you why.
First let me explain how much money a panhandler can expect to make. When I'm panhandling I can expect to make between $15 to $30/hr. The average is closer to $15 than $30. Some days I have really good days. Some days I panhandle all day and barely make $60. Other days I make $10 in 2 hrs before I'm chased off by the police.
When you are panhandling you can't expect to make a certain amount of money. You will get disappointed. You can't expect people to give you money because once you do you get letdown. When the average person goes to work they pretty much know how much money they are going to make by the end of the day. With panhandling this is impossible to figure.
Just because I make about $15/hr standing in a desirable location in Seattle doesn't mean you will make $15 in Boise, ID. Location is everything. Ideally, you want to be in a high-traffic location where cars are going to have to stop if you're flying a sign. Off-ramps are ideal but are patrolled by cops often. Most states have laws banning panhandling within 500 feet of a freeway. If you are willing to risk the citation you can make decent money off a highway. I don't recommend it unless you are really desperate and you have a lookout.
You want to panhandle where there is some money but not in such a wealthy area that the cops are going to harass you. In general wealthy people are not as generous as your average blue collar worker. You also don't want to panhandle in the ghetto because it's dangerous and people aren't as likely to have anything to give you. You will also be competing against more ruthless and aggressive panhandlers in those areas.
The most money I ever made in one day was $250. This was Black Friday right across the street from a major mall and I made that money in a little less than 4 hours. Once I made $250 I decided not to press my luck and just call it a day.
The most money any one person has ever given me was $100. This happened on 3 different occasions, twice near Christmas. I have heard of other panhandlers getting over a thousand dollars. I once saw a couple get a used car from someone. It was actually a decent little car. I also saw someone give another panhandler an RV. These are very rare occurrences. On average most people give between $2 and $5.
It's all really a numbers game. When a person gives me a $20 bill that makes my day but I know that all the little donations add up quickly. I don't get mad if someone only gives me a dollar. At the end of the day it's all money.
There are some reporters that have dressed up and went undercover to work as panhandlers. Most of them made very little money. I believe the reason why is they usually only panhandle an hour or so at most. It's impossible to get an accurate picture of panhandling in the amount of time. Also, there is a skill or a method to panhandling. Unless you get lucky you have to know what locations are best, time of day, how to maximize donations, ect. It's not a simple as putting on some grubby clothes and holding out a cup.
On the flip side of that you have people that exaggerate how much panhandlers make. These people usually have their own agendas because they want your donations to go to them and not the guy on the street. They see the panhandler taking money out of their pockets. These organizations are usually churches, homeless shelters, soup kitchens and so-on.
The real answer is somewhere in between. You also have to remember, most panhandlers don't panhandle for 8 hours a day. Most just panhandle to get what they need, whether that's a drink, a fix, food, or bus fare. Some panhandlers will panhandle until they have $5 or $10 and call it a day. Most won't panhandle all day. It's nearly impossible to panhandle for 8 hours straight. You have to deal with the elements, the cops, other panhandlers harassing you, and exhaustion. It's not as easy as it looks.
Bottom line is this, most panhandlers are not getting rich. Some are homeless and some are not. Most of the ones with homes are struggling to get by. Usually they are collecting Social Security and they panhandle as a way to supplement their income. I have yet to meet another panhandler that is driving a luxury car. Does it happen? I'm sure those people exist but they are the exception rather than the rule.