“It’s a lot like fishing,” explained Mark who asked that his real name be withheld. Mark is one of a group of panhandlers that work the intersection of Lyndale Ave and Dunwoody Boulevard. A relative newcomer to the scene, Mark has been “flying a sign” for about a year.
“I remember one time I stood out here all day… and I think I just got six bucks,” Mark recalled.
This is the first in a four part series on intersection panhandlers or ‘street signers.’ In this piece, “Mark” (real name withheld) shares his experiences, the highs and the lows, of signing.
Mark is homeless. At night he has a bed at a shelter but in the morning residents are sent out and the doors remain closed until into the evening. When a friend started signing, Mark remembers laughing at him from across the street. But before long it became apparent that. beyond the humiliation and physical discomfort, flying a sign provided means to many comforts that would otherwise be out of reach. A little bit of money can mean bus fare, cigarettes, hot coffee or food off the dollar menu at McDonalds.
Besides being exposed to the elements, signing has other hardships. Fellow signers can be territorial over prime spots with confrontations that can lead to violence. People sometimes shout abuse from their cars. Young people might toss a cluster of coins at him for amusement.
There are, of course, many generous people. In addition to the occasional bits of spare change, commuters might offer leftovers from their lunch. An apple, an orange, the occasional granola bar. Once in a while, a window may roll down to hand off a gift card for a grocery store or spare clothes.
“There’s a lot of good people,” Mark says. “You’d be surprised. There’s really some nice people.”