Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Why work?

"She sits there with the sign.  He goes and parks the Mercedes.  And they put up the sign and not less than five minutes, here she is getting money from all these people," stated Michelle Smith.

The recent actions of a panhandler in California have evidently caused quite an uproar through social media lately.  I can understand the outrage that people are feeling but I don't understand how this could come as a shock to that many people.  Bogus panhandlers have been around for years and will probably still be around for years.

The woman who has caused all the buzz was spotted begging for change with a please help sign outside of a shopping center in Chula Vista CA.  She has evidently been there every weekend for the past couple of months and is sometimes joined by a man.  The woman who had questioned her sincerity, Michelle Smith, states that she really did not think much about the woman until she spotted her and the boy leave the corner and jump into a Mercedes Benz.  She could see them counting their money, laughing and had the young boy in the front seat with them, unsecured.

Smith followed the car and it turned into another shopping plaza where she and the boy again started to beg money.  The woman did yell at Smith when she realized that she was having her picture taken and came at her with a rock in hand.  Another witness called 911 to report the incident and the police arrived to investigate.  The police ran the car's plate and it came back to an apartment that cost about $2,500 month to rent.  The couple had left the scene before a local reporter could arrive.

Rebecca Smith had seen the earlier story about the family and called a local television station to report that she had seen the couple begging outside of Vons on Regents rd in University City CA.  A reporter went over there immediately to see if it was the same couple and question them.  The woman had a similar handbag and shoes, there was a little boy who looked very much like the one in the pictures and the woman was holding an infant now.

The reporter asked them if the pictures were of them and where the Mercedes was and they answered in Spanish.  When the reporter attempted to ask them more questions in Spanish, they switched to another language and walked away.  They got into a mini van this time that had dealer plates on it and sped away, again they did not restrain the children in safety seats.  The television station had pictures of the two women compared with facial recognition technology and the result was an almost 80% match.  It was stated that anything above a 50% match can be considered the same person.

They are not the first to be caught making a living from panhandling........ in January 2014, the Modesto CA police caught a couple who made their living doing just that.  Marian, 27 and Elena Hornea, 25 and their two children ages 5 and 7 had collected $366 and several gift cards for area restaurants in just two hours.  They told police that they had a log that kept track of the various cities they panhandled in, the best locations and times for doing so.  They even had receipts for funds that they had sent out of the US for $2,000 and $1,700 with the logbook.

Gary Thompson, 31, of Lexington KY had been found several times begging for a living.  Thompson had lost some of the use of his legs in a car accident when he was about 10 years old.  his mother won a settlement of $2.5 million for him but he states that the money is all gone.  He uses a wheelchair when he panhandles as well as faking a mental and speech disability and reportedly makes between $60,000 to $100,000 a year.

Thompson has been taking people to the cleaners in Kentucky for years and was not very ashamed of being caught faking his disabilities.  He was originally from Austin TX but had moved up to Kentucky some years later.  He also is not unable to actually hold a real job since he has a degree in speech pathology.  He uses what he learned while getting that degree to fake his disabilities for the unsuspecting public.  He had already been arrested twice in 2013 for panhandling but he vowed that he would not leave Lexington or give up his way of life.

People who panhandle or beg and have a handicap seem to garner more attention and donations.  Reporters in New York City NY spotted one such person while working on a story there.  The woman was hobbling up and down Manhattan's Fifth Ave begging for money and she was raking it in while they watched.  They became a bit suspicious of the woman so they decided to follow her home one evening.  Their cameras caught her climbing into a van and then emerging a bit later.  her begging clothes were gone and she was walking quite fine without the aid of the crutches she had used all day.  When the reporter approached her to question her, she fell right back into her familiar role and refused to answer....... and then proceeded to hobble away without her crutches.

In 2013, a reporter in Michigan went out to discover how many of the "professional" panhandlers were actually fakes.  She was fed up with the increase in begging since the state had made panhandling legal.  She found that the majority were fakes who were telling lies to gain donations from people.  She was particularly upset with one man named Rudy who had a sign he claimed he had found, that stated that he was a veteran.

Rudy was not ashamed that he was lying to get money from others and had stated that it was better than robbing people and doing drugs.  Another reporter decided to take matters into his own hands to try and stop Rudy so he stood next to him on the street corner with his own sign.  That sign stated that Rudy was a liar and oddly, Rudy tried to get the police to stop the other man until he realized he was going to lose.  The last time that he was seen was pedaling off into the sunset on a rather expensive bicycle, probably in search of better corners to stand on.

In New York City NY, Stephen Riley and Myra Walker founded UHO in 1985 and eight years later, it was granted tax exempt status.  The gimmick to this to tell the public that the money they donated to their jugs and jars was going to go to the homeless and feeding them.  What actually was taking place was for a payment of a flat rate of $15 to $25, you could rent a table and UHO jug for a four hour shift.  You would be given an apron, tablecloth, table and other UHO branded materials to use during your four hours.  Once the fee had been paid, you would then be free to collect donations and basically keep everything you made in that time.

Riley and Walker had about 50 tables to rent and with them working two or three shifts a day, seven days a week..........they were collecting more than $100,000 a year on the fees alone.  Workers who had rented the tables would state that the money that was donated was going to fund soup kitchens, detox centers and shelters.  the reality was that the money was going right into their pockets at the end of their shift.

Sadly, it may be just the few bad apples who cause many to stop donating anything.  There are many legitimate groups that need the donations and rather than fall for the beggar with the cardboard sign, you should do a bit of research and see that your hard earned money really does go to help the needy.  For the others that have their little sign asking for help........ swing by the burger joint and drop them off a few burgers.  if all they wanted was to rip you off for money, they will certainly show their true colors when you hand over the paper sack.

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