Editor's note: Jessica Ann is a restaurant owner who's blogging about trying to rebound from the coronavirus pandemic at My Rebound by FOX 17. She founded The Candied Yam, a Grand Rapids restaurant serving Southern cuisine, in 2016. She is married with a daughter who just graduated high school and an adult son. She lives in Kentwood.
We all see them. Standing on the corner and begging for change. The majority of them holding a sign up that you see from the street. It’s usually hand written and it says ‘Mother of 2 and homeless. Please give. God bless you.’ OR ‘Dad, Veteran and Homeless. Will _____ (blank) for food.’ Ahhh - You guessed it without me even telling you. You know what the final phrase is .... Will W-O-R-K for food! I think the best one I have seen yet said ‘Not homeless. Don’t need a job. Need beer money!’. Lol. And, I believe that sums it up right there people.
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I am a very compassionate individual, but I use to be this total bleeding heart. I would see a person who I assumed was homeless with a handwritten sign and have to quickly dig in my pursue to find something, anything to give him or her. I remember one day being extremely distracted when one person looking for spare change came right up to my car door and said “Hurry up and get the money cause the light will change in about 5 seconds!” I was stunned. I didn’t know if I was caught off guard OR more applaud because he told me what to do. Not to mention I was silly enough to grab my purse and start fishing for some money. Cars started to honk because like he told me - five seconds had passed and the light had went from red to green. After I found almost a couple of dollars worth of change I handed it to him. He looked at it and smirked. He put the change in his pocket and said, “I guess that’ll have to due unless you can come up with more you’ll wanna drive.” What did he just say to me?! Was he serious? No smile? No thank you? No God bless? Oooouuuie!
I could not wait to tell everyone how someone made me a victim at each stop I made that day. Every person that I spoke with was in shock, just like me. They were in such disbelief. The rest of the day, all I could think of was his words “I GUESS that will have to do unless I can come up with more?” Man get your life!! I was not my general happy self. I felt like I allowed someone, a stranger whom I had never ever met before, take advantage of me. I was trying to be nice and give him what he asked for but was I giving him what he needed? I know that it took two people in this transaction and I had some capability but man was I really feeling a certain kind of way. Couldn’t sleep well that night. I was really taken aback. In my evening prayers, it was all I could do to feel compassion for this gentleman.
I woke up the next morning refreshed and rejuvenated. Ready for the day to start, well almost, until I got in the car and started to think about the guy, the panhandler, the one I gave my hard earned money to the day before. I was funky all over again. I didn’t want to relive yesterday. I truly wanted to know how I could help instead of giving out of sympathy. I started to commit to using my head and not only my heart. I actually sought out and asked a group of people who beg for a living (y’all don’t know me so well but I’m BOLD) and found out some interesting facts about panhandlers that I would like to share. I actually had a good time conversing with them. I laughed. They laughed. I spend 30 mins hanging out.
This is a generalization from the group I spent 40 mins with.
1.) Panhandler are people JUST LIKE YOU AND ME. Extremely smart, many work in an organized circuit. They put their best people forward at certain times to maximize the efforts.
2.) Some do not choose to work because they have disabilities or a mental illness and they find it difficult to find employment.
3.) Some are NOT homeless or living in shelter. Some are actual home owners. Yep. Showed me the pictures.
4.) Begging - asking someone else for money or food that you did not work for or earn is a way for them to make a quick buck. Some use it for necessities and others to pay other needed or wanted living expenses. They consider it a real job.
5.) Some have habits or addictions, others do not. Unfortunately those are what drives them to beg. They admit that sometimes additions can leave one feeling a bit hopeless.
6.) They are not all ashamed to be asking for your dollars. They figure ‘I am asking you. It’s your choice to give or not. I know that you can help me but if not, there is alway someone else to give too.’ As one of the guys told me - there is a sucker born every minute!
7.) They consider their jobs as beggars or panhandlers as real work because WE who give have made it into a job. They use those skills to finesse or charm you into giving. They do pull on the heart strings and tell stories. It works well. They told me that it doesn’t take much. If they can also ‘shame us’ into giving, it can lead to more money in their pockets.
8.) They take food or anything else we give to them gladly, but it’s not the first preference. We they receive it,they sell or give it to those that are REALLY less fortunate. Maybe the other person was on the look out or they returned a favor some way and the food keeps them from having to pay cash. Sad.
9.) THEY MAKE THE BIG BUCKS! They easily make hundreds of dollars a day for about 3-5 hours of ‘work’. Literally. They will work in different legal areas and in shifts. At the end of the time they will come together to split the earnings and diapers - to return to the store if they can for the money.
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I had such a big lesson. When ever I come across the panhandler, which is often. I actually see some of the same people every day. If I see a new person, I look at them straight in the eye, then I tell them where my restaurant is located. I give them a menu and usually circle the phone number. I let them know that there is REAL work for them to do if they are interested. Admittedly, I have yet to see a person take me up on a job offer - they never seem to show up!