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Begging in Havasu, with a Starbucks and an iPhone in hand: Writer’s prank was eye-opening

February 11, 2019

I’ve never been one to poke fun at folks on the down and out. Many homeless people are placed there by no fault of their own. Some on the other hand are basically lazy, seeking handouts to avoid work. I’m not able to discern between the two.

For several years I wondered what people would think of a homeless man begging on the street, with iPhone and Starbucks’ coffee cup in hand. These are both symbols of American prosperity. Would strangers condemn the person or commend him? In other words: Does appearance make a difference in who gets help and who doesn’t? I decided to find out.

My plan was to have a photo taken of me clothed as a transient. I didn’t want to linger around to see if folks would hand me money. I knew they would. Most writers would’ve taken the conventional route and accepted their gratuity, later on donating it to a worthy cause. I didn’t feel right going that far with my study.

My goal was to create a ‘set’, have my photo taken, and then quickly leave. The photograph would be placed online. We have a localized social-media site where viewers comment on most anything. I was able to solicit help in posting it.

With assistance from my wife Joleen we constructed a crude cardboard sign asking for donations to my college tuition. All signage words were deliberately misspelled for ‘added effect’.

I donned cheap sunglasses, beanie hat, heavy jacket, jeans, and hiking boots. That was as close as I could get to appearing despondent. A full beard greatly helped.

Using an old milk crate as my chair I sat outside a grocery-store parking-lot holding coffee and iPhone. The cardboard sign was directly in front of me. Joleen snapped several pictures as gawkers slowly drove or walked by. I lifted my coffee cup to them. They nodded or smiled. Absolutely no rude comments or gestures were made.

After several photos were snapped we loaded all gear into the car. One elderly lady watched intently from within her vehicle. As Joleen slowly rolled away I smiled and waved. The woman did the same in return. What she thought I can only imagine.

The results of my experiment are unscientific. I can happily say out of all the written comments, it was about 50/50 for those saying they’d help me, versus those that wouldn’t. I hoped for at least that percentage.

I’ve included a few remarks. Several were removed because of crusty language. Names were omitted for confidentiality. What some people said about the man in the photo was most enlightening; others not so endearing. I left things as written except for misspelling. Let the comments speak for themselves:

“Ya know what I see when I see that man??? I see a man that looks like a huge Teddy Bear down on his luck!!! He is adorable!!! I’d buy him a Starbucks!!!! I’d help him with food and cash! It hurts me none to put $5 in his hands!!! Man I wish we could just love each other more and see and hope for the good in people!!!”

“Sucker born every minute. He does this rather than getting a job by choice. Not hard to get a job anywhere these days. He’s a professional beggar.”

“You never know why or how they got there. Unless you take the time to ask. Personally I know to an extent how he feels and it’s terrible. With help they don’t have to live like that anymore.”

“Ya have to wonder: How much are they making per year? I’d say about 30-35k a year.”

“Probably makes more than people who work just skimming.”

“They are wiser than we give them credit for!!! I can’t imagine lasting 8-10 hours sitting on a rock and being happy about it... good for him!!!”

“They did an expose a couple years back on the panhandlers in Vegas. One of them had a $400,000.00 condo and was “making” about $1200.00 a day.”

“At least he has a sense of humor.”

“So what it’s 35 bucks a month to own a phone. What homeless people aren’t allowed to own phones?”

“You’re right it’s none of business. But I sure wouldn’t help out someone lazy living off the nativity of others. Instead of sitting on the corner he could be walking around town or at the job center looking for employment to better his life.”

“No $$’s from me...”

“Lol, well college is expensive! Hopefully English is one of his first classes, lmao.”

“Sure would stink being homeless around you people!”

“He also seems to think he will get more help because he can’t spell. I don’t give money to panhandlers anymore. Where I live now it was getting out of control and they were literally going to cars in parking lots and harassing people for money. So the town put an end to that.”

“Oh well, I do it all the time, when I have extra change.”

“Let the poor guy enjoy his Starbucks, and for all you people know he could be on POF looking for a sugar momma!”

“The Starbucks, smartphone, the sign, the spelling errors, this is top tier conceptual art. This man is making a statement and presenting an idea that perhaps flew over your head since you’re so eager to judge.”

“His mind, it amazes me!”

“In San Francisco it is everywhere and Vegas too. The more they are enabled the more there will be...”

“Needs education severely... or a pat on the back for ingenuity.”

“These people have no shame...”

“It’s all tax free income. This guy is probably doing better than most. I’m sure he misspelled the words on purpose. He’s laughing his a** all the way to Starbucks”.

“Worthless bums! Never give to ’em.”

“He doesn’t “deserve” money for standing on the corner with a sign. People who get up every day and go to their job and work their ass off deserve money. Are you kidding me?”

“I look at people’s feet. If their shoes are practically falling apart, they are in need. If they have brand new sneakers on, NOT in need.”

“And watch the idiots hand him money.”

“Yep!!! I’m a sucker!!!”

“The woman at the mall has been out of gas for a month now.”

“I just kinda think if ya don’t want to give don’t ... but don’t try and ridicule either.”

“This is a public place! He has as much right to be in a public place as you do! He is the public just as you are!!! He is not on your front lawn! He is not approaching your car window or your home!! He is sitting on a rock for goodness sake! Leave the guy alone!”

“I just read his sign. This guy is great and deserves money. That sign is classic! LOL - this guy’s funny!”

“It’s all about Karma. I give when I can, how they choose to spend is on them. I tell my daughter that we just gave them an opportunity to make a choice.”

“Give him a dictionary.”

“I don’t know how many times I’ve offered someone food and they’ve turned me down. To me that says they aren’t really in need. You never know if they are just there to make money and it’s sad...”

“Give if you can and want!! Bless all mankind, keep it moving!! It really does hurt to see folks doing this, and knowing just maybe their nothing but frauds but really does it matter? In my case, my utter opinion, give as if you’re giving unto God. Let him be the judge as you’re doing what’s right. Life is too short to be a bitter soul. Who truly knows another’s story actually? It’s not our business, but for me, it is my business to be kind, and show compassion and love even when others think it’s dumb to do so.”

My final thoughts on this project are quite straightforward: You can’t judge a book by its cover. Neither can you judge someone needing help by their appearance alone. A person sipping on a Starbucks and carrying an iPhone could be in need of serious help, as much as an individual possessing neither. It’s good to see there are still some compassionate people living in Lake Havasu City!