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Homeless, Not Helpless

I’ve never thought of the homeless as innovative or entrepreneurial. I suspect few do. Some might say these lost souls don’t have an enterprising bone in their bodies; if they did, they wouldn’t be homeless. I understand why people come to this conclusion; when they see homeless people, they see them sedentary – lingering in the streets, slouched on park benches, lying under blankets in alleys or crouched against buildings with cups in extended hands. They may be homeless, but are they helpless?

On the sand below the Santa Barbara Pier is the domain of a homeless entrepreneur. Within reach of your coins from above are 5 picnic blankets spread six-feet apart, each with novel merchandising themes to entice charitable currency. On the first blanket is a large empty beer mug accompanied by the sign, “Won’t Lie, Need Beer Money.” Our homeless merchant is targeting a male audience. His audience concludes that he is an honest humorist. At this point, they haven’t figured him for a good marketer.

The next exhibition is a checkered tablecloth, a candle, a vase of flowers and a beautiful place setting for one. Of course, the plate is empty, (except for a couple of quarters and dimes). The hand-drawn cardboard poster’s call to action reads, “Help Me Make Dinner.” Women threw a lot more cash into this marketing net than did men.

“Try your Luck” appealed to the gamblers. Our homeless entrepreneur offers an entertaining game of chance. He has constructed a circular target with numbered rings and a cut-out bulls-eye. The target lays flat on the blanket with an assortment of coinage scattered within the rings. Positioned next to this display is “Bet You Can’t” – three glasses suspended on a wire. People are tossing coins for two-pointers, challenging each other and keeping score; all the while, the loot adding up.

The last and final display offers the “brand” pay-off. Entertainment gives way to an appeal to the audience’s head and heart; this is his rational and emotional positioning. He’s written, “Homeless, Not Helpless.” People seem to feel good about lending a hand as they walk away with a smile. Worth 50 cents? You bet it is.

This entrepreneur must be the wealthiest panhandler in Santa Barbara. He’s making a living by practicing the 4 P’s of Marketing – Product, Price, Place and Promotion. His Product is entertainment. His Price is whatever the customer chooses to pay. As for his Place of business? Location, location, location – walk the Santa Barbara Pier and you can’t miss him. In Promotion is the power of an entrepreneurial mind to create the persuasive call to action.

The image accompanying this blog post was found on-line – in my view, a great example of creative ingenuity. If you’ll pardon the pun, I suspect we are going to see an extension of this kind of creativity amongst the homeless. Homeless or not, creativity costs nothing – it continues to be the last great bargain in any business.

  1. The Great Adventure!

    I was walking down the street in Salt Lake City the other evening with some colleagues.  There was a guy sitting on a bench (even the panhandlers in SLC are clean cut) holding a sign that said “Instant Karma – $1.00″

  2. Mollie Hemingway
    The Great Adventure!: I was walking down the street in Salt Lake City the other evening with some colleagues.  There was a guy sitting on a bench (even the panhandlers in SLC are clean cut) holding a sign that said “Instant Karma – $1.00″ · 7 minutes ago

    While I love that line about panhandlers, that doesn’t explain this rather infamous panhandler.

  3. The Mugwump

    Almost all the homeless in Santa Fe have a dog.  It’s a new variation of the organ grinder and his monkey without the entertainment value.  Credit the “homeless” (I call them vagrants) with the insight to turn sympathy for animals into cash for drugs and alcohol.   

  4. John Bell
    C
    ~Paules: Almost all the homeless in Santa Fe have a dog.  It’s a new variation of the organ grinder and his monkey without the entertainment value.  Credit the “homeless” (I call them vagrants) with the insight to turn sympathy for animals into cash for drugs and alcohol.    · 2 minutes ago

    When it comes to the motivation of human beings, where there is a will, there is always a way. Sadly, in today’s society, the “will” and the “way” are often misdirected.

  5. FreeWifiDuringSermon

    A friend who did a study abroad in France said that, in Paris anyways, panhandling is illegal unless you have a pet.  Because the dog depends on its owner for food etc. it is deemed inhumane to keep the owner from panhandling. Therefore, all the homeless in Paris have dogs. Some of them even have small packs of dogs that get out of hand and frighten people on the street.  I guess they’re not spending that cash on spaying and neutering.  

    I imagine that, when civilization collapses, these dog men will rule the streets of Paris.  

  6. Edward Smith

    One of the Doctor Who (the 3rd Doctor, Jon Pertwee, if I am not mistaken) is about a con artist (I love the clear plastic derby) and his lady companion who have a piece of ridiculously dangerous technology that needs to be neutralized.

    Left on a strange planet without his toy and much money (it was a bad day for him and his lady friend), he finds 3 shells and a pea in his pocket – and smiles.  He will be okay.

  7. Jerry Carroll

    The homeless for the most part are mentally ill or suffer from a crippling addiction. I find it hard to be light-hearted about their situation.

  8. John Bell
    C
    Jerry Carroll: The homeless for the most part are mentally ill or suffer from a crippling addiction. I find it hard to be light-hearted about their situation. · 2 minutes ago

    No doubt, many suffer mental illness and addiction. It would be helpful to know the numbers and trust the source.

  9. kgrant67

    Went a couple of years ago to see Dream Theater at the Tabernacle in Atlanta.  As we were standing in line to enter there was a homeless person who had gone out and bought cases of 20 oz water bottles from Walmart and put them on ice in a cooler.  He sold them for $1.00.  Cheaper than a convenience store would have been.  People were buying them like crazy.  That’s the only time I have been to the Tabernacle and I have wondered if that is something he does regularly or that was a one off thing for that night.  I have often thought that it was a great picture of what capitalism was all about.  We were demanding a product (or maybe he created the demand) and he supplied it. Walmart benefited from the sale of the water.  The homeless guy benefited from getting the money and I benefited from getting the water.  I bet it was illegal.

  10. The Mugwump
    John Bell, Guest Contributor

    Jerry Carroll: The homeless for the most part are mentally ill or suffer from a crippling addiction. I find it hard to be light-hearted about their situation. · 2 minutes ago

    No doubt, many suffer mental illness and addiction. It would be helpful to know the numbers and trust the source. · 42 minutes ago

    Agreed.  I hear the mental illness excuse a lot from homeless advocates.  My anecdotal experience indicates otherwise.  Many of the  ”homeless” are simply vagrants by choice.  They have a nationwide network, and they know where the pickings are good.  Santa Fe is a choice of destination because homeless services are generous, the police are tolerant, and panhandling is lucrative.  When you encourage this type of behavior, you just get more of it.  Too simple a lesson for bleeding hearts, but what can be done?  My solution would be thirty days in the drunk tank for public intoxication.  The problem would relocate to another city in a matter of weeks.      

  11. The Great Adventure!
    Mollie Hemingway, Ed.

    The Great Adventure!: I was walking down the street in Salt Lake City the other evening with some colleagues.  There was a guy sitting on a bench (even the panhandlers in SLC are clean cut) holding a sign that said “Instant Karma – $1.00″ · 7 minutes ago

    While I love that line about panhandlers, that doesn’t explain this rather infamous panhandler. · 2 hours ago

    Good point.

  12. Troy Senik, Ed.

    Getting on a Southern California freeway a few weeks ago, I passed a homeless man standing near the on-ramp with a sign reading “I was going to go into prostitution, but I hear the Secret Service isn’t hiring.”

    My first thought: Damned if he didn’t make me laugh.

    My second thought: Wait, why is he following the news cycle that closely?

  13. DutchTex
    ~Paules

    John Bell, Guest Contributor

         

    Agreed.  I hear the mental illness excuse a lot from homeless advocates.  My anecdotal experience indicates otherwise.  Many of the  ”homeless” are simply vagrants by choice.  They have a nationwide network, and they know where the pickings are good.  Santa Fe is a choice of destination because homeless services are generous, the police are tolerant, and panhandling is lucrative.  When you encourage this type of behavior, you just get more of it.  Too simple a lesson for bleeding hearts, but what can be done?  My solution would be thirty days in the drunk tank for public intoxication.  The problem would relocate to another city in a matter of weeks.       · 51 minutes ago

    San Francisco is another choice destination as I understand it.

  14. Carver

    When I first moved to the city (Memphis) I was a soft touch. But wanting something for my money I would make them tell me their story. That was interesting and informative. For a lot of them it is a game and they are not nearly the victims they portray themselves as. I have 7 or 8 really good bum stories to tell. Such as the time I first worked up the guts to not give. This when my car was broken down at 3 am on the way home from my bar tending job. I’m there, hood up, steam billowing from a ruptured hose, and the dude approaches from inside the convenience store and asks for some help. I yelled back, “Of all the nerve! Can you not see that I’m the one that needs the help here?”. Now I always drive or walk past them but keep a rough tally. I give a dollar each to the Union Mission when I’m near a hundred. Which does not take long in this town.

  15. Carver

    The most irksome are the young and fit who could obviously offer to help with a broom or rake. I sometime see two at opposite sides of the same exit ramp right next to the Lowe’s where people come and go all day long with projects afoot. However what we’re getting at above is that Humor, music, or an act is offering something for something. It is not really bumming. I’ve often said just telling jokes a the off ramp would be a huge improvement over sulking.

  16. DocJay
    John Bell, Guest Contributor

    Jerry Carroll: The homeless for the most part are mentally ill or suffer from a crippling addiction. I find it hard to be light-hearted about their situation. · 2 minutes ago

    No doubt, many suffer mental illness and addiction. It would be helpful to know the numbers and trust the source. · 3 hours ago

     Jeannette Walls addresses some of this in her writing and discusses the high percentage of choice that goes in to some of the homeless.  I understand the sensitivity about such issues but I can be light-hearted about even terminal illness with those I’m close with.  

  17. DocJay

    More than 50% voted for Obama.  I suspect our definition of mental illness needs some tinkering.

  18. BrentB67
    I recently had the opportunity to hear Bob Sweeney from Dallas LIFE speak about these issues and learned a lot about how they got there and how to help. A lot of things I took for granted and thought I knew was incorrect. If you are interested in some of the ways to help, even if you don’t live in Dallas, check out http://www.dallaslife.org/
  19. Jerry Carroll

    I was wrong about “the most part.”

    According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 20 to 25% of the homeless population in the United States suffers from some form of severe mental illness. In comparison, only 6% of Americans are severely mentally ill (National Institute of Mental Health, 2009). In a 2008 survey performed by the U.S. Conference of Mayors, 25 cities were asked for the three largest causes of homelessness in their communities. Mental illness was the third largest cause of homelessness for single adults (mentioned by 48% of cities). For homeless families, mental illness was mentioned by 12% of cities as one of the top 3 causes of homelessness.