The homeless may not be homeless

As a private investigator in Arizona, I always look forward to each day's surprise or learning experience.

Several years ago, one of my attorney clients wanted to visit the scene of an accident.  It was a complicated traffic light situation involving multiple sequences of traffic light changes on an overpass on the I-10.  When we arrived, we had to park quite a ways away, in a hotel parking lot, and then walk to the location.  As we were setting up our equipment on the sidewalk, an individual on crutches, about 35 years old, with his left leg gone below the knee, hobbled over and asked us what we were doing.  He had a cardboard sign on the back of a soft drink 12-pack container, written in black ink, that said, "Homeless need help."  I related to him the accident information — color of cars and other details.  He commented that he was there on Christmas Day when the accident happened.  There were no witnesses listed on the police report, but he knew all the details of the accident.  We were trying to establish liability on an adverse driver, but he said he could not help, as the accident had happened behind him as he was standing on the median, with his back to the accident and the light sequence.

As an investigator, I am not a stranger to asking probing questions of people.  I asked him how he lost the lower portion of his left leg.  He told me that about ten years before, he was involved in a drug deal gone bad, and he was shot in the left leg, and it shattered the bones, and they amputated his leg.

He went on to tell me he had done five years in state prison before being released.  I asked him if he was receiving Social Security benefits for the loss of his leg, and he acknowledged that he was receiving about $1,350 per month.  I asked him where he lived, and he told me about five miles from the intersection.  He pointed out his Monte Carlo that he drove to the location.  He told me he received subsidized housing, electricity, internet, rent, and utilities.  I asked him how often he was at the location on the median, and he told me about 360 days a year.  He said that Christmas Day was always "very good" and that he never missed  "working" that day.  I asked him how much money he generated begging for donations, and he told me about $2,500–3,500 a month in the slow summer months, but about $3,500–4,000 per month during the good months.  He also told me that since he is unemployed, the State of Arizona gives him about $300 per month in food stamps.  He also receives full medical care through the program the state runs for indigent persons.

His net income is between $35,000 and $40,000 from panhandling.  About $3,600 in food stamps, and about $16,200 in SSI disability.  He is pulling in about $55,000 tax-free, every year, and he gets subsidized everything.  He was not ashamed of what he did; rather, he was proud.

Next time you see someone with a cardboard sign asking for money, think twice and reject the idea.  There are more than enough services to accommodate the homeless.

Image: SLR Jester via Flickr, CC BY 2.0.

To comment, you can find the MeWe post for this article here.