37 Ways You’d be Better Off as a Bum

By Paul Michael on 29 January 2009 (Updated 18 September 2009) 27 comments

First, apologies for the blatantly provocative title (although I do make good on it). But did you know that some people prefer to be homeless? I know, sounds crazy right? But I was watching a news story recently about the growing homeless population in Britain, and the US, and it seems some homeless people stay in their situations on purpose.

Now, one thing was made quite clear; no-one chooses to be become homeless. It is definitely a situation that is thrust upon people by circumstance. Over 95% hate the life they live and want out. But after a few years, a small percentage become used to the lifestyle, in the same way that some inmates become “institutionalized” in prison.

As it turns out, some of the pressures of living a homeless life are comparable to the pressures many of us face living our typical “American Dream” lifestyles.  When I say typical, I mean the average family that has credit card debt, struggles to pay bills and wonders how they’ll ever be able to afford to put their kids through college and, one day, retire on a livable wage.

And homeless people can make a pretty good living collecting change. In one article that I found from Associated Content.  Deanna Anderson describes in detail how her father-in-law chose to stay homeless, despite the offer of some help. He did stay during the Christmas break, however, and Deanna recounts this tale:

While he was staying with us he asked for some cardboard. Thinking he wanted to do something for the kids (he loved to draw) I gave him some.  I cringed with shame when he wrote "Homeless, please help" on the cardboard.  He asked for a ride to Wal-Mart and stood outside all day (about 5-6 hours) collecting change.  This was his job every day excpet Christmas Day.  On a bad day he came home with $20.00 and on a good day he'd come home with $70.00 (what I make in a day filing, typing, and dealing with people in an 8-hour shift).  He came home with an entire foot-long sandwich that someone gave him and a warm fuzzy blanket because "no one should be cold during the holidays."

There are also stories of some panhandlers earning $800 a day: 

Anecdotal accounts suggest a few panhandlers do quite well. For instance, a recent news story tells of Jason Pancoast and Elizabeth Johnson, self-described "affluent beggars" from Ashland, Oregon. The couple estimates they can make $30-40,000 per year from panhandling. They boast earnings as high as $300 per day, and assert they once made $800 in one day. Similarly, a former Denver City Council president claimed to know panhandlers who made hundreds of dollars per week, or even per day. City Councilwoman Elbra Wedgeworth said, "I know some people are making $150 to $300 or $400 a day. There are some people who are in desperate situations but many who are panhandling for a living." One hesitates to generalize from such stories, though.

And this, from my home town of Denver:

According to a recent survey conducted by the Downtown Denver Partnership, 42% of the population has given money to panhandlers in the past year and the average person there gives $1.84 each time he or she is approached by a panhandler, for a total of about $25 a year. This adds up to an awful lot of money - a total of over $4.6 million, divided among about a thousand panhandlers. That's an average of about $50,000 per active panhandler per year, with confidential interviews with panhandlers indicating that they make between $35,000 and $100,000 tax free per year and view panhandling as the equivalent of a job or a profession. Some even have homes and support families on their panhandling income.

Fox affiliate KMSB-TV reported that panhandlers in the area are making $40 per hour! That’s over 5 times more than minimum wage, and remember, this is tax-free.  Outrageous.  A former boss once told me that there was a beggar in London who camped outside of a very grand restaurant called The Ivy and committed Grievous Bodily Harm to keep another beggar off his spot; it was THAT lucrative.  And I recently saw a photo of a beggar advertising his PayPal account.  Wait, what?! (Looks like someone's having fun with Photoshop).

 Begging with PayPal

Now, those seem to be examples of extreme cases.  I suspect much of this is speculation and exaggeration.  And clearly, some of these people aren’t really homeless, they’re more like con-artists.  Most of the time, when I see a beggar, they really do look very down on their luck and desperate for a meal and a warm bed.  Sometimes, I’ve offered a homeless person food and have been turned down; what they want is money for alcohol or drugs, and many people say “who can blame them?”  On other occasions, I’ve given beggars the leftovers from my restaurant meal, or offered to buy them a sandwich or burger, and they were smiling from ear to ear.

And let’s not forget that there are homeless families out there too.  As a father of two, I can’t imagine what kind of pressure that it.  But getting back to the title of the story, over my few days of looking into this story, I’ve heard and read many accounts of how beggars and “bums” have less to worry about than us regular civilians; some even say they have it easy.  Some of these came directly from the mouths of people begging on the streets, I kid you not.  I’ll be praying that I never get the chance to find out, but here’s the list.  Take it all with an enormous grain of salt.  

37 ways you’d be better off as a bum. 

  1. You don’t pay taxes on any money you collect
  2. You don’t have a mortgage
  3. You don’t have a boss
  4. You can never get fired
  5. You have zero debt
  6. You can pick up and move anytime you want
  7. You don’t have a car payment
  8. You don’t get stuck in traffic jams
  9. You’ll never break down on the motorway
  10. You don’t have to pay bills
  11. Or remember to pay bills
  12. You don’t care about your credit report
  13. You don’t get harassing calls from collection agencies
  14. You don’t get calls…period
  15. You don’t have to deal with junk mail
  16. You don’t have to wake up to an annoying alarm
  17. You don’t have to do laundry
  18. You don’t get criticized for bad fashion choices
  19. You don’t have email to check (Well, apart from PayPal dude)
  20. You don’t have to wait three hours in security at the airport
  21. You don’t have to attend parties with people you hate
  22. You don’t have to fix yet another paper jam
  23. You never have to sit through an ad featuring Billy Mays
  24. You don’t have to vacuum
  25. Or spring clean
  26. Or scrub the toilet
  27. You don’t get bothered by cell-phone salesmen in malls
  28. You don’t care about identity theft
  29. You don't give a crap about reality shows (you're living one every day)
  30. Going to jail for the night means a warm bed and a meal
  31. You've (probably) never heard of Paris Hilton or Kim Kardashian
  32. Newspapers are actually handy; and you can read them too
  33. You don't care if gas hits $4 a gallon
  34. Sell-by dates are your friend
  35. Every cent is valuable to you; spare change is an oxymoron
  36. Hair salons are a joke
  37. You can say you're free...and mean it

I know, for every one reason listed there are five that would prove how bad it is to be homeless.  But that doesn't stop some people from choosing to stay on the streets; and some con artists making a very good living on the back of your sympathy and good will. Personally, I much prefer donating to homeless charities and shelters than to give it to someone on a street corner or at the traffic lights.  I know my money is definitely going to help someone who needs it.

Further reading:

http://www.pubmedcentral.nih.gov/articlerender.fcgi?artid=121964

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beggar

http://blogcritics.org/archives/2005/08/24/020301.php

 

Additional photo credit: Blogspot
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Carrie Kirby's picture

We lived cheek-by-jowel with lots of homeless people in san francisco's south of market district and i certainly wouldn't trade places with any of the folks i saw sleeping in doorways while I was on my way home from work. then again, in sf it is all about heroin so our huge homeless population there was mostly pretty bad off.

as a college student in Paris, I actually found myself envying some people I saw begging. I was barely getting by myself since I had no authorization to work; I'd gotten a job with some other no-work-permit folks selling sandwiches to taxi drivers at the airports. riding the metro to and from with my huge cart of sandwiches and drinks, I once saw a gypsy woman counting pounds and pounds of change she'd collected that day. I was kind of floored by all that money -- it was clearly a lot more than I was going to go home with and it made me kind of wish I had the nerve to just start asking people for it.

then there were the folks i offered sandwiches to on my way in from selling sandwiches. some who were begging accepted a sandwich, some took a look at my -- by the end of the day -- wilting goods and declined. it kind of made me mad because that was what _I_ was going to have for dinner, but it wasn't good enough for them.

In beijing, the beggars were just awful. they would usually have a child and sometimes the child would actually wrap his little arms around your leg. i found out that many beggars actually rented these kids from country families. at that point if i had any food on me or there was a restaurant nearby, i would give something to the child to eat -- and it always disappeared into their mouths in the blink of an eye.

I blog at www.shopliftingwithpermission.com.

Guest's picture
mia

My aunt lived in her car for a year by choice, parking in fields and just travelling around.

she was also a mentally ill crack addict who killed herself though. So i would hazard a guess that most who choose to be homeless may have mental health issues, or, at the very least, extremely self destructive tendencies.

Sure, some people may 'choose' to stay in this life. but many abused people choose to stay with abusive partners. just because its a 'choice' on the surface doesnt mean we can shrug off the fact that in many cases, the choice has been made through lack of support or emotional health.

i understand the point of this article to a degree, but coming from a country with tons of homeless people (south africa) I am kind of sick of people using these very minor examples of homeless people 'doing well' off being homeless. these people are the exception that proves there is a rule - a rule that most homeless people live a life of near inhuman deprivation and instability.

I suppose my biggest worry is that this article will arm a small percentage of ignorant people with anecdotal evidence to suggest that homelessness is a choice and therefore not something that needs to be addressed. sure this wasnt the point of the article, but it may be interpreted that way.

Guest's picture
Shaun

$4.6 million divided by 1000 is $4600, not "about $50,000." This fact invalidates the entire point of the quoted article, which otherwise relies on anecdotal evidence.

Guest's picture
Olivia

Having lived in NYC for 10 years, I found if you offer food, only about half the people take it, even though they all say they're hungry. Since I was pretty close to impoverished myself about five of those years, it made me very suspicious of peoples' stories. If someone had offered me an orange or a cup of coffee from a deli, I would have gladly taken it.

Guest's picture
Stephanie

When anyone tries to start a dialogue about homelessness from an "us and them" stance, it makes my stomach turn. I've been there, seven months pregnant. Now I'm fortunate to keep myself and my two daughters housed, clothed and fed every single day... but it took more than my own hard work to climb out of that hole. It was the common effort of several people who recognized how easily homelessness can happen to anyone, people I've thanked with more than just words.

I hope this is a joke and I'm missing the humor. I'd rather be force-fed some Paris Hilton all day long than huddled in the freezing night.

Good call on the simple division and anecdotal evidence, Shaun.

Guest's picture

The PayPal dude is classic-- what nerve!

I would have to agree, while living in NYC for a few years several years ago, I got to see the same faces running the same scams day-in-and-day-out.

True, there are those who are truly needy, the vast majority are clearly making a lifestyle choice . . .

Guest's picture
Wesley Simon

Many years ago I when i finally got off drugs and lived in a half-way house, I met a guy that claimed to live homeless for over ten years; by choice. He never mentioned anything about panhandling. What he did talk about fascinated me. This very intelligent, educated person had owned a home and worked in corporate America. He claimed to have made a conscious decision to not participate in what we would consider being a responsible member of society. His thoughts seemed to be that we were perhaps the crazy ones for pursuing a career where we have to devote our time to pretending to give a sh*t about a company that can openly not give a sh*t about us, working our asses off while our children are raised by others, and on payday giving all our hard earned money away to pay the bills, only to have to do it all again to get to the next pay day. I have to admit, that there is a part of me that agrees with his perspective. I believe he was in the half-way house, not to get off drugs or alcohol, but as part of his journey. His name was Patrick. I lost touch with him probably ten years ago. He had moved out of the halfway house and in with a lady who helped him start a cabinet building company (which was profitable). He was there for two or three years and then seemed to vanish again. I suppose there are those that would call him a parasite and a drifter. I'm not writing this to be judgmental. I'm writing this because I do believe there are lots of people that really see (and realize) the benefits of being a "bum." As I write this, I realize that homeless and bum are not interchangeable. "Bum" implies that one is lazy. Panhandlers are not lazy. My friend Patrick was not lazy, nor was he what I would consider a "bum." It takes considerable effort, on a daily basis, to be homeless and make it work for you.

Guest's picture
asithi

A few years ago, they did a story on the news about this local woman who is on welfare with subsidized housing. Every morning she would go to the mall and panhandle. When they did the calculations, it seems that she was easily pulling in $70k a year with all the government benefits and the panhandle.

When I was in college, in front of the coffeehouse, there are usually a couple of panhandlers. I always give them whatever change I have. But one time, I saw this guy with a sign asking for money while he was playing with his gameboy. He was too lazy to even ask or look at you. After that, I stopping dropping my change because I realized that he was probably making for more money than my minimum wage job just sitting in front of the coffeehouse.

I don't give money anymore to panhandlers. If they have kids with them, I might buy them a sandwich, but even then, it depends. My donations go to a charity.

Guest's picture
countemall

Don't forget free health care. Sadly, we're in the middle...too rich to get Medicaid, rich enough to get health coverage through our jobs, but too poor to pay the co-pays and/or the rejected coverage like doctor visits because of "pre-existing condition" rules.

Guest's picture
Robert

It's only a few spoiled apples that ruin the bunch... or something like that. The problem is;unlike fruit, you can't visibly tell if a bum is a con artist or a bum. Chances are, if they are turning down food because they are addicted to alchol, they don't deserve my paycheck. Sometimes we have to be cold in order to be warm. The person who mentioned giving money to charity I think has the right Idea.

Guest's picture
Guest

The sad fact remains most "bums" you see have major substance abuse problems no amount of money is going to cure.

Since most of them do have such problems I'd never give them money, only food.

There are plenty of charities to donate your money that help the homeless.

Guest's picture
Wilson

All of the advantages you list also apply to the dead. Which you have good chance of becoming once you leave society. On the other hand, panhandling is a legitimate occupation as a low-skilled scam artist. More than half the population currently makes a living from various scams, so you can proudly rejoin society after you clock out.

Guest's picture
Guest

We have a (distant) relative who is homeless pretty much by choice. For him, the main point in favor seem to be:

1) you almost never have to do what someone tells you
2) you never have to be anywhere at a specific time

I guess those fall under 'freedom' at the end, but they are so specific, that the seem worthy of singling out. When his closer relations do things with him, he is highly protective of his routines and schedules. I'm fairly sure he could have a more 'typical' life if he wanted one - the family has helped others in similar situations, but I honestly do not think it would be worth the trade to him.

Guest's picture
Guest

After 9 years living in Chicago, I'm way too cynical. Example - One the way to work one morning, I saw a car stranded between the exit ramp and the main street. While a couple people stayed in teh car, one person was walking along asking exiting drivers for gas money. I drove right by, wondering how three adults could be out and about without even a couple dollars between them. A few weeks later, I took a different exit and saw the same car, same people, same scam. Sure enough about 3 months later I saw them at my exit again.

Lately I've seen signs announcing that people are "houseless" rahter than "homeless." I was houseless for along time too, but I had a perfectly nice apartment.

Xin Lu's picture
Xin Lu

ermm.... I  also think whoever wrote the original article about Denver doesn't know how to do math: "This adds up to an awful lot of money - a total of over $4.6 million, divided among about a thousand panhandlers. That's an average of about $50,000 per active panhandler per year"   That's off by a whole degree of magnitude.

Shaun already pointed out the math error, but it actually bugs me to read that math error quoted here on Wise Bread. $4600 a year isn't really all that much for a person to live on.    I kind of understand why people want to be homeless, though.. The book Into the Wild is really good and describes how a young rich guy left society to explore life.  When you have lots of stuff you need more stuff to maintain all the stuff you have.Anyway, Paul's article is pretty interesting.

Guest's picture
fortuna

Two thirds of your list apply to me right now. Except, I'm a recent grad with two degrees who makes a salary a family of four could live on. Who's making lifestyle choices now?

Guest's picture
Michelle

I'm a home health nurse and oftentimes carry my lunch with me in a cooler. When I see someone with the "Need Help" signs at an intersection, I'll offer my sandwich, a cold drink or whatever food I have with me. I've never had anyone reject it and more times than not, they will tell me "God bless you" for whatever I've given them. I realize they would probably preger money, but they're also happy for something to eat or drink. At least those that I've met.

Guest's picture
Michelle

Oops! I meant "prefer", not "preger".

Guest's picture
jessica

this is just stupid.
really? better off as a "bum"? really? mental health and substance abuse cripple the majority of homeless people in the US. i have no personal stories of homelessness and i certainly never wish to even after your account of how wonderful it would be.
i am so disappointed.

Guest's picture
Chris LAwson

I lost track of how many times the author said "take this with a grain of salt" or "homelessness sucks" or ""95% of the time these people are genuinely in trouble." I'm paraphrasing, but the author was writing an article about the small minority of homeless people who are either not homeless, choose to be that way or are simply con-artists. The list was clearly tongue in cheek, and if you can't understand irony or sarcasm then stop reading this guy's blog. Maybe get a life?

Guest's picture
Guest

You know, it actually doesn't sound so bad... It's not like my current career track is a whole a lot more promising.

Guest's picture
Nigel

I like the post. Homeless guy with paypal addy. He he. Cool .

Guest's picture
Guest

It's about the descisions they make. To me, a dollar is worthless, to a homeless person, they can get my dollar and another one, buy a fourty of malt liquor,drink it,pass out in the park, and have a wonderful day while I'm busting my hump at work. In short, their going to enjoy that dollar alot more than me, because of their lifestyle,It's better to give than to receive.

Guest's picture
Guest

I was homeless and I'd never choose it, it was so cold, if felt like I was going to die of the cold, I woke up and I simply couldn't move. Unless you live in a tropical climate I can't imagine anyone choosing homelessness.

Guest's picture
Indra

Well, as long as you're not homeless in Europe, it's okay. Damn kids here beat up and burn hobos alive.

Guest's picture
Bill

Sorry to nitpick, but there are two things that need to be corrected.

Some people, more than you might think, do intentionally choose to be homeless. I've done it myself, on purpose, and ran into several people who had done the same, all for varying reasons. Some want away from the rat race, some wish to simply not work, amd some do it for the adventure.

Also, number 17 on your list is not true. Homeless people do laundry too. Maybe not as much, but it's still a necessity.