PANHANDLERS SIGNHOLDING FOR HELP:
SPEAKING FOR THEMSELVES
Cue Kim Nguyen
B.A., University of Colorado at Denver, 2003
A thesis submitted to the
University of Colorado at Denver
in partial fulfillment
of the requirements for the degree of
Master of Arts
2005 by Cue Kim Nguyen
All rights reserved.
This thesis for the Master of Arts
Cue Kim Nguyen
has been approved
Nguyen, Cue Kim (M.A., Sociology)
Panhandlers Signholding for Help: Speaking for Themselves
Thesis directed by Professor Karl Flaming
Everyone has their own speculation of who panhandlers are and why
they are on the streets begging. However, this has led me to
question the validity of the controversies and explore who
panhandlers really are and why they are panhandling. I want to give
panhandlers the opportunity to tell us who they are and why they
are signholding (a method of panhandling), thus conducting
interviews with the panhandlers was the best method. A total of
twelve panhandlers were interviewed. Results showed that not all
panhandlers are homeless. Most importantly, findings showed that
there are great variations in the signholders population. Other
findings conform to Cooleys looking-glass self theory, signholders
reflection of peoples negative perspectives of them resulted in the
feeling of shame. Utilizing Goffmans stigma concept, results
revealed how signholders, as stigmatized individuals, find ways to
remove this label by stating that they are not like other panhandlers
because they do not panhandle for alcohol or drugs.
This abstract accurately represents the content of the candidates
thesis. I recommend its publication.
I dedicate this thesis to my ever dearest Colin for all the love,
support and help that he has given me every step of the way. Thank
you for everything, I couldnt have accomplished this without you.
Also to my family: Mom, Dad, John, Wilson, Larry and my baby
sister Cynthia for all their cherished love. Finally, lets not forget my
best friend, Jerbonian, who was always there to listen to my crisis
and lend me a helping hand. I am truly thankful for having all these
beloved people in my life.
I want to take the opportunity and give thanks to all that have
helped me through this process because I couldnt have done it
without any of these wonderful people. First, my advisors deserve an
enormous recognition: Dr. Karl Flaming, Dr. Candan Duran-
Aydintug, and Dr. Richard Anderson, thanks so much for all your
help, guidance and support throughout this research. Next, I would
like to express my great appreciation to those who have offered
tremendous assistance, Colin, Jerbonian and Maiy. Thanks a
million for everything. I also want to thank the Sociology
Department for all their help. Finally, I would like to express
gratitude towards everyone that was involved, especially the
signholders that participated in this study.
Homelessness: An Increasing Population.........3
Organization of Research Study.................6
2. LITERATURE REVIEW................................7
Signholders Selection and Documentation ....24
4. FINDINGS AND DISCUSSION.........................32
James and Lindas Story...........................37
Putting It All Together...........................96
5. SUMMARY AND CONCLUSION..............................117
Cooleys Looking-Glass Self.........123
Gender and Ethnicity Rankings
Strengths and Limitations...............128
A. ORDINANCE NO. COUNCIL BILL NO. 390........131
B. INITIAL PROCESS DATA......................137
C. ROUTE MAP.................................138
D. 2ND PROCESS DATA..........................139
E. CONSENT FORM..............................144
F. INTERVIEW GUIDELINE.......................145
I rolled up my windows and locked the doors as the traffic light
just ahead turned from yellow to red. When I came to a stop, I tried
to avoid eye contact with the person holding the sign that read:
Homeless Need Help.
As I looked straight ahead, I acted like I did not see the filthy
and poorly dressed panhandler standing to the left of my car. I then
asked myself several thought-provoking questions: Are this persons
needs really legitimate? Who is this person and what caused her
to get into this situation? Why is this person panhandling? Is
this person really panhandling because she wants to or because she
has to? Is panhandling this persons job or is she forced to for
survival? Why dont she spend her time looking for a job instead of
panhandling? Is she ashamed of herself for signholding? Should
I offer assistance?
When the light turned green, I passed the panhandler and felt
good for being able to escape that awkward moment. But I also felt
bad for not helping. Then I began to justify my behavior by thinking:
I gave money to a signholder the other day hoping that it would
supply a real need when, in fact, they probably spent it on alcohol.
If I help another panhandler, it would probably contribute to their
bad habits. Plus, I work too hard for my money to just give it away
It is also not unusual to be in a dilemma when encountering a
panhandler signholding because there is so much controversy
surrounding on who they are and why they are panhandling. Some
say that they are homeless because they have encountered
hardships and are in need of help. Panhandlers have also been
stigmatized as lazy bums who do not want to work and panhandle
for money to buy alcohol and drugs. Yet, others say that
panhandlers are wealthy individuals who panhandle for a living.
Spotting a panhandler signholding at a street comer for help is
not unusual in many cities, including metropolitan Denver,
Colorado, where this study took place. Denver is the 10th largest city
in the United States and is located at the base of the beautiful Rocky
Mountains. There is an average of 300 days of sunshine a year.
Denvers elevation is 5,280 feet above sea level, and it encompasses
about 155 square miles of land. Approximately 554,636 people live
in the city of Denver. Of those individuals, 36% are single, 46% are
married, and 19% are widows or divorced.
Approximately 35% of the individuals living in Denver
completed 4 years of college, 79% completed high school and only
9% completed 0-8 years of school. The median income for a family is
$48,195. About 11% of the families and 14% persons are earning
below poverty, which is below $17,029. Denver is composed of 65%
white, 11% black, 1% American Indian, 3% Asian, and 32%
Hispanic. (Denver Community Planning and Development, 2003).
Homelessness: An Increasing Population
According to the National Coalition for the Homeless (2002),
the best estimated count of homeless comes from an Urban Institute
Study. This study states that, in the United States, out of 3.5
million homeless people, approximately 1.35 million of them are
children, and are likely to experience homelessness in any given
year. (Urban Institute, 2000).
Burts study in 1997 (as noted in the National Coalition for the
Homeless, 2002) found that homelessness rates tripled between
1981 and 1989 for the 182 cities studied as a group. Burt examined
homelessness rates by obtaining the number of shelter beds in a
city and dividing it by the citys population.
A study conducted by the National Coalition for the Homeless
(1997) from 1987 to 1997 found that shelter capacity doubled in
nine communities and three states during this time period.
Furthermore, shelter capacity tripled in two communities and two
states. This number of shelter capacity has increased throughout the
nation, thus telling us the number of homeless individuals increased
during this time period.
Also, according to the Colorado Department of Human
Services, in 1998, the number of homeless in Denver was 5,792. In
2001, the number had increased to 9,670. The Denver Rescue
Mission has estimated that homelessness has increased by 26%.
The homeless individual is ever increasing, but in recent years
more people have been spiraling below the poverty level due to a
weak economy. In reference to the Colorado Coalition for the
Homeless, homelessness has risen to 11,000 in the Denver metro
area (an increase of 400 percent since 1988). Homeless individuals
in Denver have not only increased but, Denver saw more homeless
die this year than in any of the past four. (Montero, 2004, p. 26A).
According to Mayor John Hickenlooper, homelessness has worsened
in Denver and increased almost 80 percent in the past decade.
(Bramwell, 2004). Based on city estimates and census data, Denver
has about 617 homeless people per 100,000 populations within the
city limits. (Vuong, 2004, p. A01). Overall, homelessness is a
serious problem that is escalating.
The shortage of affordable housing, declining value and
availability of public assistance, poverty, mental illness, health care
costs, unemployment, domestic violence, and drug abuse are some
known factors that cause this serious problem. According to
Sociologist Christopher Jencks (1994),
If you have no salable skills, no claim to government
benefits, no friends or relatives willing to help out, and if
you spend whatever money you have on crack, you are
likely to become homeless. If no one drank, took drugs,
lost contact with reality, or messed up at work,
homelessness would be rare. It is the combination of
personal vulnerability and political indifference that has
left people in the streets, (p. 23).
In reference to the National Coalition for Homelessness (2002)
homelessness occurs when individuals encounter situations that
force them to choose between food, shelter, and other basic needs.
In order to end homelessness, there must be jobs that pay a living
wage, adequate support for those who cannot work, affordable
housing, and access to health care. All in all, causes of
homelessness and/or panhandling are multifaceted.
Organization of Research Study
First, I will present some literature and observations on
homelessness and panhandlers. Next, I am going to explain how I
implemented the study. Then, I will describe each participants
background, self-identity and perspectives on signholding. Finally, I
will also present my findings and discussion.
There are many conflicting definitions of homelessness.
Extensive research on homelessness was complied by Peter Rossi in
his 1989 book, Down and Out in America. According to Rossi, the
primary obstacle to developing credible data is the absence of a
widely accepted definition of homelessness (p. 47).
A definition that has been accepted by the National Coalition
for Homelessness was defined in the 1994 Stewart B. McKinney Act.
In an attempt to provide reliable and concise data, I am using this
definition of the homeless individual throughout this study. The
following is an excerpt from the 1994 Stewart B. McKinney Act,
which provides the definition of the homeless individual.
According to the Stewart B. McKinney Act, 42 U.S.C Â§
11301, et seq. (1994), a person is considered homeless
who lacks a fixed, regular, and adequate night-time
residence and; and...has a primary night time residency
that is: (A) a supervised publicly or privately operated
shelter designed to provide temporary living
accommodations... (B) an institution that provides a
temporary residence for individuals intended to be
institutionalized, or (C) a public or private place not
designed for, or ordinarily used as, a regular sleeping
accommodation for human beings. 42 U.S.C. Â§
11302(a) The term homeless individual does not
include any individual imprisoned or otherwise detained
pursuant to an Act of Congress or a state law. 42
U.S.C. Â§ 11302(c). (National Coalition for the Homeless,
2004, p. 1).
Homelessness has been recognized as a serious problem in the
United States since the early 1980s, when a weak economy caused
rapid increase in the number of homeless people. Since the 1980s,
the lazy bum... stereotype exaggerates the drug addiction, mental
illness, and alleged criminality of the homeless population (Kusmer,
2002, p. 246). This stereotype may have contributed to cuts in
Federal Aid for housing and income assistance during that period.
Homeless became more visible and the frequent contact with the
domiciled citizens generated more public interest and debate during
the decade than did almost any other domestic issue (Snow and
Anderson, 1993, p. 18).
In 1992, Shlay and Rossi published a meta-analysis on
homeless in the 1980s. They looked at 60 case studies of which
sixty percent were based on interviews with samples of shelter
residents only and the remaining forty percent were interviews of
shelter residents and people living in the streets. The sample sizes
range from 35 to 7578 persons. One study was based entirely on
men in the shelter and another was based entirely on women in the
Shlay and Rossi found that the population of the homeless
consisted of mostly young, unmarried males. There were very few
elderly and over 40% were blacks. Also, 81% were unemployed
longer than the duration of being homeless. This population had an
annual income ranging from between $1,236 to $2,088. Shlay and
Rossi also reported that 20% of the homeless received general
assistance, 10% received SSI, and 8% received Aid For Dependent
The majority of homeless individuals were not mentally ill but
there were a significant number that were alcoholic and drug
abusers. A quarter of the homeless were disabled. A substantial
proportion has been in jail or in prison. They lack strong ties to
social networks, but have social ties with other homeless individuals.
The average homeless typically eat less than two meals a day.
Shlay and Rossi also found that homeless individuals were
more likely to have been raised in foster homes. The average
duration of homelessness was less than two years. The exact
number of homeless individuals was unknown but there were more
individuals that were poor than homeless.
The meta-analysis found that the causes of homelessness,
included housing shortages, acute poverty, physical and emotional
disabilities, joblessness, economic structural change, capitalism,
changes in family structure, and a miserable welfare state.
Starting in the 1990s, the increase in homeless families,
especially of single mothers and women, has been addressed by
many researchers. Axelson and Dail (1988) focused their research
on homeless families because of the rising population. They looked
at the homeless families housing crisis and social impact to make
recommendations for public policy that aimed specifically at
Another study by Anderson and Koblinsky (1995) looked at the
characteristics of homeless families and summarized their research
to provide an overview for government agencies. They made
recommendations assisting in the implementation of policies that
regulate and provide benefits to homeless families. Some of their
recommendations included recognizing diversity among families,
foster family stability, encouraging involvement in parenting, and
building social support networks.
Leticeq, Anderson, and Koblinsky (1996) compared the social
support of 92 homeless individuals and 115 permanently housed
low-income mothers in the Baltimore-Washington, DC metropolitan
area. The researchers found that homeless mothers perceived and
received less social support than the poor housed mothers.
Danseco and Holden (1998) presented an exploratory analysis
to identify different types of homeless families and to examine
variations in children's outcomes among these types of homeless
families. This study found that homeless children could be
categorized into three types of homeless family clusters: at risk, high
achieving, and getting by. The child that has the greater behavior
problems is categorized into the at risk group, whose parents
experience high levels of parenting stress and has a number of life
concerns. The child that has fewer behavior problems, fewer mental
problems, and academic achievement belongs in the high achieving
group. The child that performs below average academically and
performs below average cognitively is in the getting by cluster.
Also in 1998, Lindsey explored the mothers perceptions of
how homelessness and shelter life affected family relationships. The
mothers reported that the quality and quantity of interaction with
their children increased, and they also felt closer to their children,
even though shelter conditions, mothers emotional state, and childs
emotional state during the shelter stay were very disruptive.
Ritchey, Gory, and Mullis (1990, 1991) examined gender
differences among the homeless population. In their 1990 study,
they explained variation in the prevalence of depressive
symptomatology in a random probability cluster sample of 150
shelter- and street- based homeless persons. They found higher
rates of depression in persons under age 50, blacks, women, and
poor. In their 1991 study, the authors examined the gender
differences in health risks and physical symptoms for a survey
sample of 100 homeless adults between ages of 18 and 44. As a
result, they found that homeless women were more likely to report
symptoms of illness than homeless men. This confirmed that gender
differences persisted even under the leveling conditions of
The following studies looked at different aspects of
homelessness published in the 1990s. Phelan, Link, Moore, and
Stueve (1995) found that education socialized students to the
official culture or ideological refinement, which included values of
equal opportunity and equal respect but not equal outcomes in
respect to attitudes towards homeless people.
Conley (1996) examined the social structure of street life as it
impinged on a sample of homeless persons chances of obtaining
non-shelter housing. Homeless individuals reduce their chances of
getting non-shelter housing by not trusting each other. In order to
obtain non-shelter housing, homeless individuals need to collaborate
with one another and each would have to pay for a portion of the
rent, but they have this distrust with one another so they do not
collaborate and rent together, thus leaving them sleeping in shelters
or the streets.
In 1996, Marshall, Bumam, Koegel, Sullivan, and Benjamin
examined the relation between objective life circumstances and life
satisfaction among the homeless population. The authors found
that homeless perception of how well they can do anything does not
affect how satisfied they are with their life, as reported in previous
studies of Perlin et al. 1981 and Rosenfield 1992.
Cress and Snow (2000) looked at 15 homeless social
movement organizations and highlighted the importance of
organizational viability. In 2000, Mooney filled the gap of non-urban
locations research in the homeless literature by collected data on the
homeless in a non-urban location. In this non-urban southern city,
she found the homeless consist of mostly non-white males with the
average age of 36. This population was never married and almost
half did not graduate high school. The average duration of being
homeless was four to five months.
Lee, Farrell and Link (2004) used the data from a national
survey of public attitudes toward homeless people and evaluated the
contact hypothesis to in-group/out-group relations. The contact
hypothesis is The contact between members of the out-group and
in-group [that] is expected to improve the attitudes of the former
toward the latter by replacing in-group ignorance with first-hand
knowledge that disconfirms stereotypes (p. 40). The researchers
used multiple types of in-group exposure to highly stigmatized out-
group. In conclusion, the authors analysis supported the contact
hypothesis. They found that all types of exposure affected public
attitudes favorably, thus suggesting the scope of the contact
hypothesis needs to be widened.
There is a changing image of homelessness. Now, rather than
someone lying down in an alley with a bottle, the stereotype is
someone panhandling with a sign on a street comer. Signholding is
a recent phenomenon that has been increasing in the Denver Metro
area and its surrounding suburbs. Signholders are panhandlers who
utilize the method of signholding to panhandle. There are no specific
statistics for the signholder population but it has been increasing
and many of these people may not necessarily be homeless. Due to
the increasing number of panhandlers, city ordinances have been
established to regulate panhandling. The City & County of Denver
Ordinance Number Council Bill Number 390 is an example of one
ordinance that was recently passed in 2004 to regulate panhandling.
This anti-panhandling ordinance is passed to prohibit beggars from
approaching pedestrians near the entrances of buildings, public
telephones, automated teller machines, and Regional Transportation
District Bus and light-rail stops. This ordinance also restricts
panhandling to certain areas in the Metro Denver Area. (Gutierrez,
2004). This new panhandling section was added to Ordinance
Number Council Bill Number 390. (See Appendix A}. Effective as of
January 15 2005, there will be a fine of $100 for anyone convicted
of entering a roadway to collect money. (Schrader, 2004, p. B05].
There were those such as Doug Wayland, education director of the
Colorado Coalition for the Homeless who opposes the Ordinance,
There are people who rely on contributions so they can get a hotel
room or a place to stay during the cold weather (Schrader, 2004, p.
There are many studies that focused on homelessness but
there are no other previous studies that focus specifically on
signholders, a panhandling method utilized by beggars. A few have
studied panhandlers. Most such studies have focused on the
publics views and opinions of the panhandlers. (North, 1989 86 Lee,
Barrett A., Sue Hinze Jones, and David W. Lewis, 1990).
One study found that despite the primary influence of a
persons status and value... With respect to direct contacts,
respondents who had been panhandled (ask for money) were more
likely to regard homelessness as a function of personal choice. (Lee,
Barrett A., Sue Hinze Jones, and David W. Lewis, 1990, p. 259).
Sarah M. Bramwell (2004) believes that the view of homeless
individuals as victims of uncontrollable events, and not being held
responsible for their state is naive. She believes for one thing, not
all homeless actually lack homes. Studies have shown that most
panhandlers people usually call homeless actually do have a
place to live. They just prefer to make living by begging (p. 26A).
In an article by James North (1989 cited in Baker, Anderson,
86 Dorn, 1993), Otis Thomas experienced homelessness for two years
and developed his philosophy about those who panhandle,
If I see somebody on the street comer, I assume he
wants a drink. There are shelters where he can stay;
there are places where he can eat; so he doesnt need
money for that. Its not drugs, because hell never
panhandle enough for them. He might need bus fare,
but he could just ask somebody for a used transfer... (p.
I am not utilizing Norths method for my research because he
focused only on one individuals experience. Since this is an
exploratory study, I am aiming at finding the scope of who
signholders are and why signholders are panhandling.
Is signholder panhandling a choice or a result of welfare cuts,
lack of affordable housing, low wages and limited employment
opportunities, mental illness, substance abuse, and domestic
violence that cause homelessness and panhandling? To fill in the
gap of previous homeless and panhandling literature, I am exploring
who signholders are and why they are signholding.
Cooley reflected or looking-glass self theory is that you
understand and know yourself through what others think of you.
Cooleys looking-glass self theory has three principal elements the
imagination of our appearance to the other person, the imagination
of his judgment of that appearance, and some sort of self-feeling,
such as pride or mortification (Cooley, 1922, p. 184). This feeling
of pride or mortification is the result of the reflection of another
persons thoughts of you.
In a study by Snow and Anderson (1993), homeless individuals
reported that being looked down at by society is an added burden.
They are being pointed out, laughed at by children on school buses,
and avoided. The homeless individuals that considered themselves
as the lowest rung of societys ladder may defend themselves with a
street identity that lifts them above the impersonal label of
homeless and helps them to make sense of their situation
(Criswell, 1998, p. 43). The homeless individuals would increase
their self-esteem by explaining their dilemma. They would claim that
it is not their fault because whatever happened was out of their
control. They would also lift themselves from the homeless label by
explaining how different they were from other homeless.
Snow and Anderson (1987) found a variety of identity talk
among the homeless. The three generic patterns they found in the
homeless identity talk were distancing, embracement, and Active
storytelling. The distancing identity talk consists of role distancing
and institutional distancing. The embracement identity talk consists
of role embracement, associational embracement, and ideological
embracement. The Active storytelling consists of embellishment and
fantasizing. The frequency of the uses of the identity talk varies with
the length of time the person has been in the streets. In their
findings, categorical role and associational distancing and the
construction of fanciful identities were found to occur most
frequently among those who had been on the streets a comparatively
short time. Categorical embracement and embellishment, however,
tended to manifest themselves most frequently among those who had
been on the streets for two or more years (Snow and Anderson,
1987, p. 1363).
Goffmans essay on stigma (1963) characterizes stigmatization
as discounting and discrediting, disqualifying one from full social
acceptance. One is negatively perceived and socially rejected from
Phelan, Link, Moore, 8s Stueve (1997) found that homeless
people suffer stigmatization by the domiciled individuals. The
stigmatism attached to the homeless people is equivalent to mental
hospitalization, however homeless and mental illness stigmatism is
independent of each other.
As noted in Fife and Wright (2000), stigmatized persons lose
social status (Cumming and Cumming, 1965) and they are
considered to be inferior and represented to be dangerous to society,
all of which lead to social rejection and social isolation. (Goffman
1963; Jones et al, 1984; Link et al. 1989).
According to Falk (2001), when the homeless stigmatism is
internalized, homeless individuals feel that they have no meaning in
this world and no purpose in life. They are not looked at nor treated
as persons. They receive no recognition, no response, and have no
security. The homeless individuals do not have a real identity
because they do not belong to any group of people and have no
family or friends that are wiling to acknowledge their existence.
I am using Cooleys looking-glass self theory to explore how
signholders perceive themselves, what they imagine others think of
them, how they are being judged by others, and how they are being
treated by people who are not signholders. I am also using
Goffmans stigma to explore how signholders manage their identity
as stigmatized individuals.
Because no previous studies have examined the signholder
population, this study is exploratory in nature; therefore, specific
hypotheses are not developed. The research questions developed for
this study are: Who are the signholders? Why are they signholding?
How do signholders perceive themselves? What do they think people
who are not signholders think of them? How people who are not
signholders are judging them? How people who are not signholders
are treating them? How are they alike or different from other
signholders? How are they alike or different from other non-
The location of signholders was mapped out through a distinct
process. In the initial process, I systematically drove around the
Denver Metro Area during a two-month period. I observed the
locations where signholders were most likely to be and where they
were more densely populated. I recorded signholders by date, time,
and demographic features that were identifiable. The demographic
features recorded consisted of gender, age, and ethnicity. (See
Appendix B for recorded data in the initial process of locating
signholders.) After the initial mapping process, a route was
developed to locate the possible participants to be interviewed. (See
Appendix C for the map of the route taken to locate signholders to be
Signholders Selection and Documentation
Documentation was conducted for a two-week period after the
initial mapping process on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays
between the hours of 3:00pm to 6:00pm. The date, time, location,
and demographic features of signholders were collected exactly as
described in the initial process.
However, in this investigation any characteristics that were
noticeable were also recorded. (See Appendix D for recorded data in
this process) This mapping process was designed to assist in finding
regular signholders so that they could be listed as possible
participants. However, after this process, I came to realize that it
was impossible to find a signholder at a specific location
consistently. A person signholding in one spot one day does not
mean that this individual will be there the next day and it sure does
not mean that he or she will be there ever again. A person spotted
everyday at the same location for an entire week does not mean that
he / she will be spotted at that location again the following week. The
signholder population comes and goes as their needs and demands
Since participants could not be located and marked as regular
signholders to be interviewed, convenient sampling was the best
method of locating participants for this study. Individuals who were
at street comers holding up a sign and panhandling were asked to
be interviewed by the opportunity approach. Opportunity
approach means that on any given day and time, a signholder that is
spotted would be approached and asked to participate in the study.
Since this is a vulnerable population, a verbal consent form was
used instead of a written consent. This would allow signholders to
participate with assurance of confidentiality because their names
and other identifying features were not recorded. A verbal consent
log was kept recording the date, time, participants numbers,
participants approval to be interviewed, and permission to being
tape-recorded. The verbal consent was read to each participant and
a copy of the form was also given to the participant. The consent
form (Appendix E) explained the study, the participants rights, and
promised confidentially. A ten-dollar food gift certificate for
McDonalds, Burger King, or Pizza Hut was given to each participant
as an appreciation of his or her time.
three participants in their 20s, three in their 30s, four in their 40s,
and three in their 50s.
Out of these thirteen participants, seven stated that they were
White and three stated that they were Hispanic. Two stated that
they were Native American and one stated that he was French
Canadian American Indian.
The participants education ranged from 8th grade to one year
of college beyond High School. Two participants went up to the 8th
grade level, one went up to 9th grade, two went up to the 11th grade,
and one went up to 12th grade. Two participants got their GED and
two received their High School Diploma. Three participants had one
year of education beyond High School.
I have created the interview guideline (Appendix F) to be
utilized in all my interviews based on my research questions, which
was guided by previous literature, theory and social issues. After a
couple of interviews, the interview guideline was revised, which lead
me to modify the guideline to direct questions that could specifically
answer my research questions. I have also added questions that
came up in the previous interviews that were never thought of
After demographic questions, I asked the participants about
their background and current situation. The homelessness
literature has guided me to ask these questions to find out who
these people are, how they are living, and what caused them to be
homeless and/or signholding. A few examples of these types of
questions are: What is your situation now? What is your
housing/shelter situation? Are you employed? Do you have any
family? What caused you to be out in the streets asking for help?
To measure what they imagine the societys perspectives on
them based on Cooleys looking-glass self, I have included questions
such as: How do you feel about yourself? How do you feel about
your situation? What do you think people think of you? How would
people judge you if you were not signholding? How do people judge
you when you are signholding?
To explore what signholders perspectives are as stigmatized
individuals, on their similarities and differences to other signholders
and domiciled citizens, I have asked the following questions: How
are you different from other signholders? How are you alike other
homeless who do not signhold? How are you alike compared to
other people who are not homeless?
Since signholding has been such a controversial social issue,
and everyone has his or her own opinions and thoughts about
signholders, I asked my participants questions directed specifically
towards signholding. Some examples of these types of questions are:
Why are you signholding rather than utilizing some other kind of
help? How long have you been signholding? How do you choose
what to write on the signs? Do you use different slogans for your
signs? How do you choose your signholding locations? How much
do you make on a typical signholding day?
After obtaining approval from the Human Subjects Research
Committee at the University of Colorado at Denver, I started with my
interviews. The interview guideline was utilized for all of the
interviews. Only one to two interviews were conducted a day. Each
interview lasted about thirty to ninety minutes. Interviews were
conducted at the location where participants were signholding.
Once I spotted a signholder, I parked my car and walked with
my friend to the location where the participant was signholding.
First, I introduced myself as a student at the University of Colorado
at Denver and that I was working on a research project regarding
panhandlers who signhold. Next, I asked them if they would be
willing to give me an hour or so to be interviewed. Since they were
working I told them that they could still signhold during the
interview or take a break if they wanted to. Then, I let them know
that my friend would be standing by to help me and that everything
they told me would be kept confidential. I also told them that in
appreciation of their time, I would be giving them a ten-dollar food
certificate to McDonalds, Burger King, or Pizza Hut. Finally, if they
agreed on participating, I read them the verbal consent form to let
them know exactly what I was doing and their rights as a
participant. The participants were given a copy of the consent form.
If the participants permitted, the interviews were audio taped,
however, the participants names were not recorded as noted in the
consent form. After the second interview, the tape recording was
eliminated because it failed due to environmental distractions. Due
to tape recording failure, my friend and I wrote detailed notes as
much as we could of each interview. The interview notes were
transferred into a word processing format the same day after the
interviews. When typing up the interviews, I typed the two sets of
interview notes into one document on a word processor. Any
observation notes, field notes and recalled notes were written after
each interview. All notes were transferred into word processing
format the same day after each interview took place.
FINDINGS AND DISCUSSION
First, I will present each signholders stoiy. Next, I will give an
analysis of the participants background and signholding findings.
Finally, I will use Cooleys looking-glass self theory and Goffmans
stigma to interpret the signholders identity.
Suzannes sign reads Hungry and Homeless. She is a single
thirty-nine year old white female who has been in the streets for
almost a year. She completed up to the eleventh grade. Suzanne
looked filthy and unkept like she has not bathed in months. She
has on a dirty white t-shirt and a pair of gray pants that had a big
rip at the knee. Next to Suzanne lay two dirty and muddy looking
sleeping bags that looked as if they had never been washed. When
she smiled, her front teeth were noticeably missing. As she
introduced herself, the reek of alcohol from her breath was so strong
that I had to back away to get some fresh air.
This was Suzannes first time being homeless and
panhandling. She told me that her life had always been stable and
stated, I had a home, a job, and a new car before. She lost
everything when her common law husband of eighteen years left her
for someone else. She was thrown out of her home with nowhere to
go. Her situation worsened when her brother and mother died a few
Suzanne sleeps in the streets and occasionally makes enough
money by signholding for a night at a nearby motel. She could not
go to the shelter, such as the Samaritan since they make us (her
and her boyfriend) separate because we are not married. She has
also tried to seek help from other organizations and churches but
they have not helped her. Without having help or access to shelters
to obtain her needs, Suzanne frequently starves and sleeps on the
cold concrete at night.
Suzanne lacks all her basic needs, including health insurance.
However, when she fell and hit her forehead on the cement she was
treated and was asked to return for removal of the stitches. The
hospital knew that she was homeless with no health insurance, but
they were very nice and treated her forehead injury.
Suzanne is unemployed but has been applying for jobs when
she gets an opportunity to make herself presentable. Previously, she
worked as a telemarketer and receptionist. She held the receptionist
job at the Cigna Building for five years. She has attempted to apply
for all types of jobs located near where she signholds, but she has
not received a response from any of them. Suzanne thought that the
reason they would not hire her is because of her missing teeth.
Suzanne cannot rely on her family for help even though they
are living within a few miles from her. She has a twenty-two year old
son from a previous marriage and a twelve year old daughter with
her ex- husband. Her daughter lives with her ex-husband and her
son lives with his fiance. Her son lives in a one-bedroom apartment
and claims there is no room for her to stay with him. Suzanne has a
sister but she cannot stay with her because she does not have
enough room at her house either. However, she checks in daily with
her sister from a payphone. Suzanne cannot rely on her family for
support, but she is able to depend on her boyfriend, who is her only
friend. He is also homeless, but he protects her from other street
I asked her what her perception of the general population was.
Her response was that a lot of people give her dirty looks, some look
straight ahead and others cuss her out. She claimed, You dont
even exist [to the general population]. [But] a lot of people do help
and [there are] a few people who care. Suzanne told me that she
does not like to signhold. She always used to get upset when people
mistreated her, so her boyfriend would hold the sign while she sat
next to him. Overtime, she has learned not to let the bad treatment
from people bother her, even though it still upsets her occasionally.
A horrifying encounter happened when she first became
homeless. This event has influenced her to signhold at a location
near where she used to work and live. She took the bus and headed
downtown to seek for help. Rather than being able to get help, she
faced the most frightening night of her life. She did not share
further details about what happened to her because it was too
painful and depressing. She was in tears just talking about it.
She shares the signholding comer with other signholders,
however, she said, Some signholders are stingy and dont want to
share. She also claimed that there are some signholders who lie,
gave an example of someone holding a sign that said, I need a ticket
to Texas. Somebody actually offered them a ticket to Texas, but
they turned down the offer and said that they just wanted the
Suzanne makes her signs out of a cardboard from the
dumpster. She chooses what to write on her sign by saying the
truth about her situation. She said, I dont understand why other
people have so much written on their sign. It is not like you are
writing a dictionary or something. I just write the truth on my signs.
I am really hungry and homeless. From time to time, Suzanne
changes her sign to say, Cold, Hungry, Homeless because it is the
truth and that it illustrates her situation.
Suzanne has her good and bad days panhandling. On a bad
day, she does not make enough for a cheeseburger and on a good
day, she makes enough for motel room for the night, which is about
forty-eight dollars. She professed that she has never denied any
offers from people when panhandling, even if she does not want the
offer. However, she will not take anything that is open because, you
never know what is in it, she said.
Throughout the interview, the only thing Suzanne seemed very
happy and excited about were her kids. She mentioned how happy
she was that her kids were okay. She was also very excited about
her son getting married. She emphasized many times that, its a
bad situation and she is hoping to get an apartment [and] get a job
at McDonalds, Taco Bell, anything.
James and Lindas Story
James and Lindas sign reads, Homeless! Need Hotel! Please
anything will help! Thank you! They were the only married couple
that I have interviewed. Their nineteen months old son, Alex, was in
a stroller between them at the street corner where I interviewed
them. They have been together for four years and married for two
years. James is twenty-three years old and Linda is twenty-four
years old. They both are white and have some education beyond
their high school diploma.
They were so nicely dressed that if they were not signholding,
no one would have ever known that they were homeless. James was
very cleanly dressed with bright white shoes had no marks or
scratches on them. Linda was also cleanly dressed. Furthermore,
during the interview this gentlemen walked by and handed my friend
and I two dollars rather than giving it to James and Linda. Overall,
we looked more homeless and in need than James and Linda did.
Previously, this family of three was living with some
roommates in an apartment. They moved out because their
roommates were drug addicts. They have been in the streets for
three months. They are currently staying at a motel in Wheatridge
because the downtown motels are seedy, he said.
Also before becoming homeless, they were working and going
to school full time. Coincidentally, they lost their jobs, became
homeless, had to quit school and their son became very sick. James
justified this coincident by stated, When it rains, it pours. They
both lost their jobs when Alex was sick and had to be hospitalized
for four days. Linda clarified, I was shy three days from training to
become a manager, but they fired her because she had to take those
days off to be with her son. At the same time, James quit his job as
a warehouse worker with no further explanation as to why he did.
James said that he has been applying for jobs since he quit
the warehouse job. Linda claims that she wants to apply for jobs,
but she cannot because she does not her social security card and
birth certificate. James and Linda had to get out of their apartment
so quickly that she did not even get a chance to grab her paperwork.
Since their apartment became such a dangerous place, they were not
able to go back to get her identification records. To make their
situation more difficult, Linda asserts that she cannot get a new
social security card and birth certificate like most people. She
claims that since she was bom on a Navy Base the only way she can
get her birth certificate is to physically be there. She would have to
fly to the Navy Hospital in California and get her birth certificate,
which she cannot do because they do not have any money.
James and Linda both have family but they cannot rely on
them for help. They cannot live with Lindas mom because she lives
in a one-bedroom apartment. In addition, Lindas mom is going to
move in a month to take care of Lindas sick grandfather so they
would have to move out in a month if they stay with her. Linda
stated that the rest of her family was bad and they would only take
Alex in. Jamess family is out of state so they cannot seek help from
them. They did not mention having any friends, except that they will
be moving in with some roommates soon.
Linda expressed that their situation was hard and
depressing. James said, People look down at us but we have to
take whatever shame comes with it for our son. Linda asserted that
they get dirty looks sometimes and one lady told her to give up her
son. Her response to that ladys comment was, I would not give him
up for anything and you cant tell a mother to give up her child.
Linda admitted that she was afraid of social services even though
she knows that they cant take her son away.
They had a car but it died a month and a half ago, so they
traveled on the bus to Downtown Denver from Wheatridge to
signhold. They choose to signhold at this particular location
because they liked it. They signhold for two days out of the week
and an hour and a half to two hours each day to get more than one
hundred seventy-nine dollars for their motel room for the week.
James declared that they signhold because it is easier than
approaching people and asking for spare change. If they want to
help then they can. Linda expanded on Jamess explanation of why
they would rather signhold, We dont want them to feel guilty when
they say no.
They learned the panhandling rules from the signs posted at
the Colorado Coalition Shelter and police officers. Some of the rules
they mentioned were no panhandling at the 16th Street Mall, twenty
feet from business stores and eighteen feet from payphones. A
panhandling rule among the signholding population that they
mentioned was that they would move two blocks down and one block
over if they saw somebody else signholding at a comer.
They believed that the majority of homeless are drug addicts
that just got out of jail. Since the drug addicts only get seventy-five
dollars when they get out of jail, that is simply not enough to live on
and they really do not have any other means for survival. They
estimated that about seventy to eighty percent of the heroin drug
addicts range from fourteen to twenty-two years old.
All in all, Linda emphasized that they would not be homeless
for long because they are moving in with some roommates and she
was getting a waitress job. I thought James was the one that would
be working since Linda was not applying to any jobs due to
identification problems. Perhaps she did not need any identification
proofs to work as a waitress. They pointed out that even after they
get a place and jobs, they will still panhandle, since they will still
need the panhandling money to keep them on their feet. James
mentioned that the, hardest thing [about being homeless is] with
kid, but their son loves it. Its like a field trip for the day. Linda
strongly declared that she would not do it over because she loves her
son. The very last thing she commented to me was that, you just
dont know how lucky you are.
Georges sign reads, Everyone needs a little help sometime.
Happy Holidays. God Bless. He is a thirty-seven year old white
male. George is single and has never been married. He received a
high school diploma but never had an opportunity to attend college.
Georges appearance is fairly decent. His clothing is in pretty good
George has been homeless for nine years. He was originally
from Pennsylvania. Since 1998, he has been moving around to
Washington, Utah, Mexico, Oregon, and Colorado. He has been in
Denver for about six months. If George likes an area then he will
stay up to a year or two. If he does not like a place then he will not
stay longer than two months. He thinks that, Denver is better than
a lot of places because [it is] easier to get around. More places to go.
Not sure if Ill stick around, leave around springtime. He planned to
leave around springtime because it was too dangerous to hitchhike
in the winter. According to George, it was dangerous because people
could leave him in the mountains somewhere and he would freeze to
death. He moved from one state to the next by hitchhiking. He
sometimes plans out where to move to and at other times he just
rides along with the person that is giving him a ride. He also decides
on where to go next by hearing from other traveling homeless people.
He likes to travel and said that thirty-five percent of the homeless
George sleeps at the Denver Rescue Mission. He checks in
before 6:15pm every night for a bed and to shower. He occasionally
showers at Saint Francis too. Recently all of his belongings were
stolen at the Mission when he fell asleep, so now he only has a
couple pairs of jeans, a sweat pant, two t-shirts, and a couple pair of
socks. He used to have a change of clothes at least for five days a
week. He likes to have from five to six pair of pants and seven to
eight t-shirts. He explained that he gets his belongings stolen once
in a while. He bought his clothes from thrift stores and his socks
and underwear new.
When I asked George if he had enough to eat everyday, he
answered that he gets a lot of food. They serve three meals a day at
the Denver Rescue Mission to anybody regardless. I never have
lunch there though. Food is not good. They cook whatever they
have and its not a planned menu. He claimed that they cook
mostly rice and beans and the food is very bland, so he prefers fast
food. He carries a bottle of hot sauce and sometimes buys jalapenos
from the grocery store for the bland meals at the shelters.
George is not working because he claims that there are no jobs
for him. He used to do construction labor, some landscape, and
furniture moving. He had a landscaping business, but it went bad
and he had to sell everything he owned to get out of debt. George
asserts that he does not like to work for the labor unions because
they charged other companies twice as much as they are paying him.
Throughout the nine years that George has been homeless, he has
only applied for a job when he comes to a rough city where he
cannot make enough money by signholding. Of course, then he will
only be there for a maximum of two months. He will move on to a
different city where he can earn money by signholding rather than
George stated that he does not have any family that he can
obtain help from them since, Half owe me money and none will
pay. He never talked to the other half of his family. Both of his
parents are dead and he is the only child. His dad died two weeks
before his tenth birthday and his mom died of Cancer when he was
twenty-six years old. He has no family or friends, except for his
backpack friends that he meets in the streets.
George declares that he is fine with his life and does not want
to change it right now. He seems to be very happy and satisfied with
his life. Towards the end of the interview, George admitted that he
became homeless by choice. This could explain why George is
happy and does not want to change his life style.
When I asked him about his perception on the general public,
he answered, Denver public are mostly friendly, some are assholes
that harass. Some harass you and cuss at you. He mentioned that
he gets harassed at least once a day, but no one has ever physically
George asserted that he signholds because it is easy to do and
he does not have to spend a lot of money. He makes his own signs
with a cardboard from the dumpster and a marker from the store.
He told me that he likes to signhold on the other side of the street
because it is better in the morning, but he came out late so someone
else took the spot. According to George, the location where he
usually signholds at is better because of the lights. The light stops
more people because it turns red more frequently. He figured out
which signholding spot to panhandle at by walking around, looking
around, and seeing where other signholders are. He said that
different people like different spots.
I asked him if there were any rules or regulations for the
signholder population. In response to the question, he said that
when he first came to Colorado, he signheld in Arvada, which was
illegal so he got fined ninety-five dollars. He did not get a warning
from the police officers, but after they ticketed him, he relocated to
signhold in Denver. He did not pay the fine or go to court so they
just put out a warrant for his arrest. The police officers found him
accidentally and arrested him. He served two days in jail. From this
incident, he learned that signholding in Arvada and most
surrounding area of Denver is illegal. I then asked him if there were
any rules among the signholders population. He answered, The
only rule is who ever show up first.
George usually makes enough for food, a pack of cigarette,
and a couple of beers every night. He makes enough for a motel
night sometimes. It all depends, never know how much youre
going to make. Someday five dollars, others fifty dollars. He
signholds everyday but the length of signholding in that day depends
on how much he made. If I earned thirty dollars before noon I will
leave but if I only earned five dollars by noon, I will stay until dark.
After he is done signholding for the day, he goes to the library or
walks back to the Mission.
Marias sign reads, Every 1# needs A Little Help At Times
God Bless Us. She is a homeless forty year old Hispanic female.
She is single and has been through two marriages. When asked how
much education she has, she answers, Eighth grade. I could read
and spell good. She is filthy and extremely disoriented. On her
face, there is a teardrop tattooed right below the comer of her right
eye, and three teardrops tattooed right below the comer of her left
eye. She was crippling along the side of the street signholding
during the interview.
Maria tried to apply for disability because of her broken rib,
which prevented her from being able to walk with her legs leveled.
She was in prison for twelve and a half years and got released two
years ago. She lives in her friends garage and she does not pay rent
unless her friend needs help. She told me that she has enough food
to eat, but it could be better. She received her clothes from the
church and the Denver Rescue Mission also known as Jesus Saves.
Before Maria went to prison, she stated that she used to be a
carpenter and a mom, raising her eleven brothers and six sisters.
Now Maria has a difficult time finding work. Maria explained to me
why she could not get a job, They said that I need a green card.
Those Mexican wet backs took all our jobs and here I am. For some
reason, the jobs that she has been applying for require her to show
proof that she is a legal resident. However, she claimed that she was
bom and raised in Colorado so she does not understand why she
needs a green card. She occasionally works for Tandem Temporary
Agency, because they do not require any proof of identification.
When I asked Maria what kind of work she did for Tandem, she
replied, If youre a women, cleanup construction sites. If youre a
man, heavy shit. She pointed out if she is lucky shell get picked up
twice a week to work for eight and a half hours each day.
Maria has a lot of family but she cannot get help from any of
them. Marias dad is dead but her mom is still alive and living in
Colorado. Three of her brothers died and the rest of her siblings
reside in Colorado. She said that she talks to her family here and
there. She never mentioned having children when I asked her
about her family. I had to ask specifically if she had any children.
She let me know that she had three children ages fifteen, seventeen,
and eighteen. When I asked her if they lived with her, she answered,
No, they are scattered around the world.
When I asked Maria what her perception of society was, she
stated, They treat you okay if you treat them okay. I wonder if
what she said applied when she mentioned that, Someone threw
[her] off the bridge the other day. [She] did not know who they
were. During the interview, she definitely did not treat others with
courtesy and she also had a lack of respect for practically everyone
she encountered. She was cursing a lot during the interview, every
sentence that came out of her mouth consisted of at least one curse
word. She was even cursing at a guy who stopped at the light in
front of us. She was yelling at the top of her lungs because he would
not look at her and was looking straight ahead. He must have been
terrified so he completely ignored her, even though, I am pretty sure
he heard her because she was right next to his window screaming at
him. She made cursing remarks eveiy time someone braked or
honked. When there was a car accident that occurred behind us,
she angrily yelled that she does not even know how these people get
their drivers license with lots of profanity at the beginning, middle,
and end of the sentence.
She has been signholding for almost two years. When I asked
her why she is signholding versus utilizing other methods, she
declared, They not going to hire me so I gotta hold the sign. She
asserted that this street corner was her area and she does not
signhold anywhere else. So I asked her what happens if someone
else is here already? She answered, I tell them that this is my area,
but we switch every half hour. She claims that she signholds eveiy
day of the week for eight to eight and a half hours a day. She also
claims that she only makes ten dollars total on a good day and
twenty-seven cent total on her worse day. She makes her own sign
and change the wording once a week. I asked her if there were
certain words that influenced people to help her more, she
responded, If you say help.
Before I was done asking Maria all the interview questions, she
demanded her ten dollars food certificate and said that she had to go
to the restroom. After I gave her the food certificate, she handed her
sign to a friend. As we watched her walked normally across the
street to a restaurant, I wonder if her crippled walk while signholding
was just an act.
Pacos sign reads, Help If Can. He is a thirty-five year old
Native American male, who has been homeless for two years. He is
single but has been married once before. Paco completed one year of
college. His appearance is presentable and fairly clean. He has his
waist length hair tied back in a ponytail.
Paco lives under a bridge and occasionally stays at his older
brothers house. He lived at his older brothers house because it was
too cold outside. He mentioned that he could never stay at his
brothers house until his younger brother died. His younger brother
died not too long ago under a bridge from pulmonary edema. Before
living under a bridge, he slept from friend to friends house.
Paco informed me about his needs. First, Paco does not have
enough food to eat everyday because the only way he obtains food is
from people driving by. He cannot go to the shelters for food because
there are too much red tape, no id, cant use tribal id. The shelters
require identification and Paco only has a tribal identification card,
which obviously means nothing to the shelters. Second, Paco bathes
in the creek at three oclock in the morning when nobody is around.
Third, he does not have health insurance, but never gets sick.
However, he did go to the hospital to get stitches for the fights he got
into. He still owes money for the hospital visits. Finally, he acquires
his needs, such as bedding and clothes from the local news
channels. The news channels dropped off the sleeping bags and
clothing at the sidewalk where they signhold.
Paco recently got his job back. He has been working as a
framer on houses for a week and a half. Before this job, he worked
as an administrative assistant for a year and has been unemployed
for four months.
Paco has lots of family and friends that he talked about. Paco
has three brothers and one sister. His other brother and sister live
in Ohio, so he has not seen them in ten years. His mother passed
away when he was twelve years old and his father died fourteen
years ago. He cannot obtain help from most of his family and he
cant live with family, except for his older brother. Pacos older
brother allows him to stay at his house only when he is not drinking.
As far as receiving help from his friends, Paco claimed that most
homeless people, and three fourths of the Indian community in
Denver were his friends. However, Paco does not ask any of his
friends for help, [I] got myself into this situation and going to get
myself out of situation. He admitted that alcohol caused him to
become homeless, so he believed that he was the only person that
could get himself out of the situation.
Paco feels pretty good about himself, he sees himself as the
protector of camp. He feels that things are looking up and Im
going to get out of it, one day at a time. Even though he feels good
about himself and knows that things are getting better, he is not
happy with his situation because he wants home of my own. Its
going to be hard without rental history. Besides wanting a place of
his own, Paco also plans to get a drivers license.
He thinks people looked down on him. He also thinks people
think that he is low. He knows that people would judge him
differently and have a lot more respect for him if he was not
signholding. But he does not think people judge him when he is
signholding as he said, They dont judge me. He does not think
that they judge him because his signs were not just words, like the
He explained what the colors on his signs meant. They are
colors of red, yellow, white, and black. Red means Native Americans.
Yellow means Asian. White means White. Black means Black.
When all these colors are mixed, they turn to brown, which is earth.
He elaborated on the colors and discussed the Sweat Lodge, which is
like birth from Mother Nature. The Sweat Lodge is like our church
that cleanses from the inside out, and we perform the INPI
ceremony. I am the Sun dancer in this ceremony. In this ceremony
we pierce our body parts so the nation could live because we believe
in what comes around goes around. The Native Americans perform
this ceremony because we want to heal all to come together and live
He believes that people treat very very good, say I have talent.
I was never hassled by police, and never given a ticket. Paco also
believes that people do not treat him differently when he is
signholding and not signholding because the people categorized
[me] all together for my good artwork.
Paco is signholding for help because Native Americans, we are
the invisible minority. We have to deal with racism. He has been
signholding for two years and he thought that the benefit of
signholding was to bring his artwork out. He wants to become a
well-known artist. He had sold a lot of artwork, but he stated that
some of his artworks were redundant. Paco believes that the risk of
signholding is bloodshed. Fighting over a comer.
He makes his own signs and always writes the same wordings
and drew similar meaningful colored pictures. When I asked why he
did not use different wordings, he responded, Why do I need? Basic
slogan, Help if Can. People do not need to help. He wanted
people to know that they could help if they could and he does not
really expect them to help him. He does not think that there are
certain slogans that influence people to help more.
He chose his signholding location by the traffic lights. He let
me know that the best time to signhold was at lunchtime from eleven
in the morning to two in the afternoon and five in the afternoon to
seven at night. These were the best times because people were
coming from the Cherry Creek Mall and Cheriy Creek, which is a
He notified me about a new law that regulated signholding.
Mayor Hickenlooper passed a new law not too long ago that said
you cant signhold at a median, where there is two way traffic. Paco
also let me know that the rules among the signholders population
was that they must share the comers. A person cant hold the
comer all day, everyday, and hour after hour. The limit was one
hour each person, but this is tribal comer, they need to ask if they
want to use this corner.
Paco made an average of sixty dollars a day and said that
holidays were good. He made about two dollars on a bad day and on
a good day, he made up to a hundred dollars. He signheld everyday
before he had his job, so today was the first time he has been out for
a week and a half. Paco signholds from eleven in the morning to two
in the afternoon and five in the afternoon to seven at night or until
sunset. He goes to work when he is not signholding and goes
underneath the bridge after he is done signholding.
Paco thought that he was different from other signholders
because his signs were colorful and others are just words. He
believes that other signholders are jealous of him. He does not think
he is any different from other homeless that do not signhold. He
said, Lots of homeless people are out here because of alcohol. He
watches out after everyone since he has better alcohol tolerance, and
because he is bigger than the rest of the signholders. He thinks that
he is different from those who are not homeless because of his long
hair. He grew his hair long because of his identity, but people judge
him as being lazy because the length of his hair. He does not think
that he is like people who are not homeless.
Some of the most important things that Paco stated about
himself were: I wake up to the sun everyday. The sun gives us life.
I kiss the medicine bags that I wear around my nick. The medicine
bag has stones in it, pearl, sage, wheat... It protects us.
Heathers sign reads, Homeless and trying to get out of the
cold tonight anything helps. She is a forty-five year old white
female. She is single but has been married once before. Heather
has on a pair of jeans and a sweater, which are in good condition.
She looks very clean and orderly.
Heather became homeless when she moved to Denver from
Rawlings, Wyoming to look for work. She was robbed by her friends
who came to Denver with her from Wyoming. Heathers friends
drove off with her purse and belongings while they were at a 7-
Eleven. She was in the streets because of this robbeiy.
Before this incident, she was living fine, both working, had an
apartment but had fast food work only. When she said both
working, the other person is probably her boyfriend or friend, but
she never mentioned anything about him again. However, a white
male with her was signholding while we interviewed her. It was not
her husband because she is single and she did talk about her ex-
husband later on.
She used to live in an apartment in Wyoming and now she
sleeps on the streets around Five Points Area next to an abandoned
building, unless she gets enough money from signholding for a motel
room. She has plenty of food to eat and commented, If someone tell
you that they dont get enough food they are lying. She obtained
the food from Veteran of America, Jesus Saves, and Church groups.
She went to Saint Francis for her needs such as clothing and Stout
Street Clinic for her health needs.
Heather used to work at fast food restaurants in Wyoming and
hoped to find better jobs in Denver. She has been unemployed for a
total of eight months. She works at the labor hall whenever they
have work. However, she recently got a job and will start work next
week at a telephone solicitation company. A friend that she met on
the streets referred her to this job.
She does not go to her family for help because she wont tell
them, embarrassed. She has a mom, two sisters, and a brother in
Wyoming. She did not mention any children of her own when I
asked her about her family, so I had to ask her specifically to see if
she had any. She has two sons and two daughters. They range from
twenty to twenty-eight years old and they all live in Ohio with their
dad. They inherited one hundred and thirteen acres of land, so they
all have their own piece of land. She does not want to live in Ohio
because she cant stand her ex-husband. I asked if she had any
friends and she told me that they were all in the same situation,
Heathers feelings about herself depend on the day but she
mostly felt, lousy. She feels that her situation, sucks, but getting
better finally getting ids and the Stout Street Clinic Services will keep
all papers. She is not happy with her situation and she plans to
make a lot of changes.
Heather stated that she does not know how people think of
her, because she has never run into someone that degrades her.
She thinks people would judge her the same if she were not
signholding, and when she does signhold she said that they treat
her, not bad, dont know. Some remarks but you get it everywhere.
Hard to say. She is not sure how people would treat her if she were
not signholding but she has, never been treated badly. People
treated her all right when she was signholding. She does not think
people treat her differently when she is signholding or not
Heather is signholding because she claims, We want to get all
the help we can do so we dont have to sleep out. Heather and her
friend could get a motel room for thirty-five dollars a night with the
signholding money. She has been signholding off and on for one
month. According to Heather, the benefit of signholding is being
able to sleep indoors. She does not see any risks in signholding.
Heather makes her own signs and tells like it is. She
changes the signs slogans sometimes, like for Valentines Day. She
changes it because she gets tired of seeing the same thing all the
time. She does not think that there are certain slogans that help
more than others. She claims that her signs are worded differently
but all say the same thing.
Heather signholds at this particular street comer because
somebody told her about the location. She said that they could
signhold anywhere except for Indian Ridge on Colfax and Speer.
They are violated and threatened us to stay off of Indian Ridge. She
learned the rules and regulations for signholders from police officers
and RTD cops. She knows that she cannot signhold downtown and
that it is illegal to perform aggressive panhandling. She does not
think that there are locations where an individual could get more
help than others, but this is the only location that she signholds at.
The only rule among the signholders population that Heather knows
about is First come, first serve.
Heather typically makes fifteen dollars on an average day. On
a good day she can make sixty dollars, but on a bad day she can
make as little as a dollar and eighty cents. She signholds twice a
week and about four hours each day. She works for Day Labor when
she is not signholding. The Day Labor gives a ride to the work
location for eight dollars a day. They charged her four dollars for a
ride there and four dollars a ride back. The Day Labor pays cash
but does not pay any more than six dollars an hour. When she is
done signholding, she usually goes to Civic Park, the library, or
walks along the river.
She does not think she is not different from other signholders,
except for Indian Ridge, they are more aggressive. However, she
does not think she is not like many other signholders because she
does not drink and the others signhold, for alcohol. She also does
not think she is different from other homeless that do not signhold.
However, she did not understand why, a lot [of the homeless] get
checks, Social Security, or money from the Government but prefers
to stand in food line. She knows this because they get the mailing
address at Saint Francis. At the beginning of each month, all the
homeless are there to collect their checks. They get a room for a few
nights and drink up the rest of the check. She thinks that she is
like other homeless that do not signhold in that she eats with them.
Although they do not sleep at the same place, they are all in the
same situation. She believes that she is different from many people
who are not homeless because she has higher hopes and she is
willing to work for them. She is like other people who are not
homeless because [We] all have places to go and things to do.
She concluded the interview by saying that she has integrity
and that everybody (homeless population) shares when they get
money, except for the greedy people.
Erics sign reads, Homeless Vet Needs Help With Work, Please
Help. He is a forty-three year old white male. He is single and
never has been married. He obtained a GED and has two years of
Psychology training in a ten-week program. Eric looks fairly clean
and his clothes are also clean, except for his jackets lying on the
sidewalk next to him.
Eric has been homeless off and on since 1989. Eric is staying
at the Salvation hotel, 1901 29th street for thirty-five dollars a week.
He used to have a house, a car, used to be a polluter. He was at
the Southern Oregon V.A. hospital for treatment and just got out.
He mentioned going back to Oregon though, because he liked it
He states that there is just enough food, nobody in this town
starves. Rescue Mission feed people and you could get food from the
shelter where I stay. He has all his needs and his health insurance
covers him for life since he is a veteran. The Salvation has laundry
facilities and he obtained his clothes, for cheap prices, such as the
Demi at 1717 E. Colfax.
He needs a job but has not found work. He has been
unemployed for over a year (since last December). He used to teach
MS Word for a dollar and fifteen cents an hour at the V.A. hospital
for four months and workshop for three months.
He has a stepfather, a mother, and his father died last April.
He does not ask his family for help and they live in Denver. He has a
couple of suitcases stored at their house. He has friends but does
not ask them for help either because he would rather work. He is
out in the streets asking for help because of necessities, money to
pay rent, work.
When I asked him how he felt about himself, he answered, I
know about cognitive therapy. Dont know...humbling experience.
Kind of like myself. He is not happy with his situation. He wants to
work and would like a place to live. He plans to make changes as
many as I can, in a positive manner. Dont want to be out here
I asked him what he thought people think of him, he
responded, I dont really care what they think of me, how I think
about myself is important. I also asked him how he thought people
would judge him if he was not signholding, he said that people have
not best judge, only Jesus could judge. In response to my question
of how do people judge him when he is signholding he said, Ask the
people driving by, dont think what they think. When he is not
signholding, he believes people treat him the same way he treats
them, which is the Golden Rule. However, when he is signholding, a
lot of people are kind to him. He does not really know if people treat
him differently when he is signholding or not, They just walk on,
drive, by, most say hi. Dont know what to think, sign or not.
When I asked him why he was signholding rather than
utilizing some other kind of help, he responded, I hang out at labor
pool, no work, slow this time of year, but I will find a job. I know I
will. He has been signholding for a week. He thinks that the
benefit of signholding is that you get to learn humility. Eric thinks
that there are many risks involved in signholding, Well... I dont
know someone could come and shoot me if they want to. People
could throw stuff out of the window if they wanted to.
Eric makes his own sign and writes, Needs help with work.
He claims that he does not use different slogans because he keeps it
honest. He does not know if there are certain slogans that influence
people to help more, but he thinks that Vet helps a little bit more,
you get more respect. He chose the signholding location because
nobody was there. He did not know if there were certain locations
that signholders could get more help than others. However, he
thought that there probably are, he just does not know where they
are located. He does not know if there are rules among the
signholder population, but believed respect could be one of them.
Eric typically makes about five to ten dollars a day. On a bad
day, he makes nothing and the best day he has ever had, he received
five hundred and fifty dollars from one person. He signholds
everyday of the week. He signholds from eight oclock in the morning
until about two or three oclock in the afternoon, or when he gets
tired and hungry. He reads, plays music, and studies when he is not
He stated that he is not different [from other signholders] we
are created equal. He believes that he is like other signholders
because, we are all homeless. He does not know how he is
different from other homeless who do not signhold. He thinks that
he is like other homeless who do not signhold. He explains, We are
all out here struggling. Nobody wants to be homeless. A part of the
population has mental health issues. He claims that he is different
from other people who are not homeless because, Im homeless and
theyre not. He said that he is similar to other people who are not
homeless because, Im a human being, still care about people.
Eric believes that the most important things about him are his
kindness in heart, knowing Jesus, and will to work. I asked him to
tell me what I have not captured about him, he replied, My spirit,
something that cannot be label, something that is free.
Jasmines sign reads, Widow laid off anything will help. She
is a fifty year old widowed white female. The highest education she
completed was twelve grade. She looked decent except her grayish
hair was very sloppy and she had missing front teeth. Unlike
previous participants, she did not have anything lying next to her
like jackets and sleeping bags. This could be because Jasmine was
Jasmine was signholding because she could not get a job.
Jasmine got her purse stolen by someone she knew at a motel. She
had her identification card and social security card in her purse
when it was stolen. She needs these two cards to apply for jobs so
until she can get new identification proofs she cannot go to work.
She resides in an apartment with two roommates. Before
living in the apartment, she lived in motels. She had all her needs,
except for health insurance. Jasmine states, [She] goes to ER and
they will treat you and bill you... but even people with jobs cant pay
back medical bills.
Jasmine has been unemployed for two months. She used to
package Miracle Grow in Texas for six months. She also used to do
construction, bartending, clean, and serve food. Ive done
everything, you name it. She stated that she was living well in
Alabama and Texas even after her husband died, she had a job and
everything until she got her purse stolen.
I asked Jasmine if she had any family, she responded, Not
really, I do but I dont. You know what I mean? She does not ask
them for help because she is the black sheep of the family.
However, she does have friends who lend her money. Jasmine let
me know that when she does borrow money from her friends, she
pays them back, You can only borrow what you can pay back.
Jasmine likes herself sometimes and other times she does not,
but during the interview she felt all right with herself. She does not
like her situation and is not happy with it, I [would] rather be
working than doing this, its degrading, very degrading. She plans
to go to work as soon as she gets her proofs of identification.
When I asked her what she thought people thought of her, she
answered, You have to have the attitude, I dont give a damn!
Jasmine claims people judged her as a likeable and dependable
person when she was not signholding. She mentioned that when
she was signholding people judged her like she was the lowest piece
of trash in the world, other people will help, other dont give a
damn. She does not know if people treat her differently when she
is signholding and not signholding, they treat her the same as
normal...I am not talking to the people.
Jasmine is signholding because she cannot get any other help.
She has been signholding for two months. According to Jasmine,
the benefit of signholding is that she gets a ...little bit of money in
[her] pocket and pay a few bills. Jasmine states that the risk of
signholding is getting run over.
She makes her own sign and writes, What you think will work
at the time. She does not change her sign slogans veiy often and
said that, its all about money. She believes there are certain
slogans that influence people to help more, Joking around like, Got
Milk, I need Beer or to make you feel sorry, you dont know,
depends on the person in general.
She signholds at this particular location because it is near
where she lives. She stated that signholding in Englewood was
prohibited and they will put you in jail. At certain locations such
as Downing and Evans and University and Evans signholders
could get more money because it is the rich part of town and campus
area. She does not go there because you have to get there early,
7am. Jasmine also stated that there were really no rules among the
signholders population except to share and First come, first serve.
To Jasmines knowledge, the rules for the signholders population
were as follows, Do not aggressive signhold, like sticking out sign,
banging on widows.
When I asked Jasmine how much she makes signholding on a
typical day, she was very hesitant and said that it varies too much, I
cant say. I had to ask her again but in a different way, What is the
average that you make, could you give me a number? She blurted
out quickly, thirty to forty dollars. On a bad signholding day, she
claimed that she made nothing once. On a good day, she stated she
made one hundred and eighty-six dollars. She signholds daily for
about four to five hours in the afternoon during the hours of 1 lam to
4pm. She is at home sleeping, drinking, looking for a job when she
is not signholding. After she is done signholding for the day she
[goes] home, have a beer.
Jasmine asserts that she is not really any different from other
signholders but has no idea how she is like other signholders. She
believes that a lot of homeless do signhold so she is not different
from or like the homeless who do not signhold. She declares that
she is not different from other people who are not homeless and that
she is like domiciled people because she has the same wants and
needs as everybody else.
In the conclusion of the interview, she told me that she was an
intelligent [and] likable person.
Juans sign reads, Will Work Anything Helps Thanks God -
Bless. He is a fifty-seven year old Hispanic male, who has been
homeless for a year and a half. The highest education he completed
was eleventh grade. His appearance is fair, however he does look a
little worn out.
After Juans divorce, he started drinking very heavily: Ive
been straight now, straight for five months. He lost everything
when he became homeless a year and a half ago. He says that he
was working all the time prior to losing everything. He was a painter
for forty years. He is unemployed, unless when it snow, I have a
place to work, shoveling snow.
He had a home but now he stays at the Salvation Army
Crossroads shelter. He has enough food to eat everyday at the soup
lines. The Salvation Army feeds him in the evenings. He has all his
needs met, except for health insurance. Juan obtained clothing from
the Salvation Army. He also says he gets his clothing from David
Cliptons, and showers at the Rudy Center, but no other signholders
have mentioned these two places before. I could not locate these
places via Google search engine either perhaps they do not exist.
Juan has family but does not ask them for help. He has a
living mother who is eighty-five years old. He also has three
children. Juans family lives in Wyoming. He came to Colorado after
he became homeless. Juan declares that he does not ask his family
for help because, They never see me this way. I have three aunts
and three nephews here [Colorado]. Im embarrassed, they dont
know. He has friends but they are usually street people. He is
out in the streets asking for help because he got to make money
some way. I cant get a job. Its embarrassing but...
Generally, I feel pretty good [about himself], except for doing
this. I get depressed sometimes. He is not happy with his
situation. He plans to look for a job and apply for disability. He
thinks that people probably think Im a no good bum. Juan
believes that when he is not signholding, people judge him good,
cause I usually dont dress this way. Juan claims that when he is
signholding some people are really nice, and you have people who
are not so nice. They yell at you when they drive off. However,
when Juan is not signholding, people treat him good, theres still
bad and good people. But most generally there are good people.
Juan thinks that when he is signholding, they treat me fair. Most
people are pretty nice. However, Juan stated that people talk to
him more when he is not signholding.
Juan states, Im trying to make it on my own, when asked
why he is signholding. He has been flying the sign for four months
off and on. Flying the sign is a term that most signholders use
when they hold the sign panhandling. Juan believes that the benefit
of signholding is, I smoke and it gets me something to eat.
According to Juan, the risk of signholding is other homeless people,
they see you in a comer, make you move and fight you. He made
his own sign and he wrote the truth. He does not use different
slogans for his sign because theres no sense to that just being
homeless. Juan believes that the signholders appearance
influences people to help more and not necessarily the sign slogans,
I think the shabbier you are, the more they will help.
He says that a person showed him the good and bad places to
signhold. He chose his signholding locations by this persons advice.
Juan notified me of the place where signholding is restricted, There
are certain locations you cant [signhold]. Get ticket [for
panhandling] like medians. Thornton, you cant signhold. Juan
believed that there were certain locations that panhandlers could get
more help than others, like around Colfax and Speer, except Indian
Ridge, dont go down there. Aggressive guys there, they are always
in crowd. I get along with them except for one. Juan mentions
that a rule among the signholders population is to take turns
signholding every half hour if somebody else wants to sign hold at
that same location.
He makes about ten dollars on a typical signholding day. He
makes nothing on bad day and makes good money on holidays, one
hundred dollars in eight hours. He signholds twice a week for about
three hours each day. He usually goes to the library when he is not
Juan stated that he is different from other signholders because
I stick around by myself. Not good to stick around no crowd and
most are drinking and so I try to stay away. He also believed that
he is different because some signholders are real aggressive. Juan
gave me an example of how he is not an aggressive signholder, when
somebody walks by and says hello to him, he will greet him or her
back. He believes that he differs from other homeless that do not
signhold because he is quiet and respects other people. Juan does
not think he is like anybody else and he treats everybody the same,
as long as they respect him, he will respect them. I asked him how
he was like other people who were not homeless, he responded, I
had everything before you know. I work for everything, had my own
home and everything. Up here panhandling used to never do this.
At the end of the interview he told me, Im proud of who I am.
I would say I change it because of my situation. Thanks, I know that
you care thats why youre doing this.
Lennys sign reads, Family in Need Jesus Loves You. He is a
forty-nine year old Native American male, who has been homeless for
almost thirty years. He is single but has been married and divorced
three times. The highest education he completed was eighth grade.
His appearance is veiy dirty. He has on a filthy t-shirt and a pair of
blue jeans that fade to the color brown in most spots because of the
dirt covering it. He almost looks like Santa Claus with the big round
belly, except Lenny does not have Santas jolly face. Although Lenny
claims to be Native American, he looks more like he is white.
Lenny notified me immediately that, everything that happen,
happened long ago. I do this to pick up work, make money, make
food. He says that he had a house before, but this would have been
thirty years ago. He stays at the shelter downtown, just a place to
stay for the night. He has enough food to eat everyday. He obtains
food from the shelters, Jesus Saves, and Salvation Army Crossroads.
He claims that all his needs are met by obtaining things from the
shelters such as Saint Francis and Jesus Saves, Salvation Army
Crossroads, require you to take a bath. He has no health insurance
but goes to Stout Street Clinic for any health needs.
Lenny worked at a tobacco company for four years. He was
sweeping floors there, but has not had work since 2003. He used to
do roofing and construction work, prior to working for the tobacco
company. It appears that being unemployed was not a factor in
causing Lennys homelessness because he was working previously
while homeless. I asked him what have caused him to be out in the
streets asking for help, he replied, Tragedy, divorces, mother passed
He has two brothers and one sister. He also has a daughter
and two grandchildren in Kentucky. Lenny was raised in Kentucky.
He has only been in Denver for a little over nine months and in
Colorado for a year and a half. Occasionally, Lenny borrows money
from his family but he does not like to do so because he has to go
back to Kentucky and work off what he owes. Lenny states that he
does not have any friends, When youre homeless you dont have too
I asked Lenny how he felt about himself, he answered, Fine,
feel like Im on top of the world, I aint got to answer to nobody.
Even though Lenny feels fine, he was not happy with his situation
because he said that it could be better. He plans to make changes,
in the future, yeah, living changes and money changes. I also
asked Lenny what he thinks people think of him, he responded, I
dont know. I dont talk to that many people. They better wony
about what I think of them! I then asked him how people judge him
if he is not signholding, he replied, Probably, about like everybody
else. Holding a sign is about as low as you could get. Its the next
thing to stealing, this sign keeps me from stealing. Lenny believes
that people judged him like the lowest thing on earth when he is
signholding. According to Lenny, when he is not signholding, people
treat him like a regular person. Lenny thinks that people treat him
like trash when he is signholding. However, he does not think
people treat him differently when he is signholding and not
signholding, basically the same people in society now day, they
dont care very much for homeless people.
Lenny claims that he signholds because he has no Colorado
identification card. He only has a racetrack identification card,
which the state of Kentucky accepts, but the state of Colorado does
not accept it. Lenny asserts that without the appropriate Colorado
identification card, he cannot apply for work, which forces him to
signhold. He has been signholding for over fifteen years all over.
Lenny says that when he gets tired of Denver, he will leave and go
somewhere else by hitchhiking. To Lenny, the benefit of signholding
is that you get to keep all the money, no taxes. Meet different
people and get bags of food. Lenny believed that the risk of
signholding was that it depends on where you do it at. Watch
yourself, you might get hit.
Lenny makes his own signs and before deciding what to write,
I sit down and think, what I think works best. He changes his
slogans because some work better than others. He believes the
slogan that influences people to help more is Family in need,
anything will help, which is what his sign says right now. He really
does not have any family in need, but this sign slogan works better
so he uses it to help influence people to assist him more. Choosing a
busier location also help signholders make more money. Lenny sits
around and studies to see where the most traffic is before
signholding at a particular location.
Lenny knows it is illegal to panhandle in Lakewood and
Aurora. He also knows certain locations that he can get more help
signholding at such as the 20th street and 1-25 because the more
traffic, the more youll make. Lenny believes there are rules among
the signholders population too. He mentioned that One of them is
dont jump in front of people. If Im on the comer first, another
cant. The other is first come, first serve. Signholders have to follow
city ordinances too, they cant stand in median, it has to be a one-
Lenny makes about forty dollars on a typical signholding day.
He makes one dollar on a bad day and about sixty to a hundred
dollars on a good day. He signholds seven days a week and for
about four to five hours a day. Lenny is sleeping at the shelter when
he is not signholding. He goes back to the shelter and wail till they
let him in at five oclock in the afternoon, after he is done
Lenny believes that he is different from other signholders: I do
it to survive most of them do it for alcohol and drugs. He also
mentioned that he is signholding for cigarettes and soda pop
because he cant afford no drugs they are too high. He does not
think that any two signholders are alike. He added that some
signholders are aggressive, but he is not aggressive. Lenny does not
consider himself to be like or different from other homeless who
signhold or does not signhold. I asked Lenny how he differs from
people who were not homeless, he responded, Thats hard to
answer. However, when I asked Lenny how he was similar to people
who are not homeless, he replied, we are all regular human beings.
At the end of the interview Lenny told me, Well, Im fifty years
old. I got no... prospect and I hope to change everything around.
Louiss sign reads, Homeless Please Help! He is a fifty year
old French Canadian American Indian male. He never graduated
from High School but received his GED. He is single but has been
married and divorced. Louis looks very filthy and dirty, as if he has
not showered in months. He appears to be extremely worn out, like
he has starved for decades and has not slept in years.
Louis is in the street because his disability [check] doesnt
cover rent anymore, or food, clothing. Louis has been homeless for
a year and needs money to get a room. He lived in a studio for about
a year and half but his disability check was not enough to pay for his
rent. Louis currently sleeps in the park during the day and walks
the streets at night. He cannot handle being around a lot of people
so he cannot stay at the shelters. He obtains food from the people
driving by when he signholds, but he does not have enough daily.
He just had a sandwich and soup at the Church across the street.
They only serve food on Sundays. He does not have all his needs
met, but he does have a Colorado Medicaid card for his heath needs.
Louis explained to me how he obtains his needs, A lot of time, I get
enough money and I go to a Burger King and wash up.
He is unemployed and has been since the mid 1980s. He has
been on disability since then. Prior to being disabled, he used to be
a construction worker.
He does not have any family because he grew up in foster
homes. He has one street friend that he plans to get a motel room
with when they get their disability checks. He let me know that he
does not exactly go to his friend for help because he is in the streets
too. However, they are helping each other out by pitching in for a
I asked how he felt about himself, he answered, I was
diagnosis with major depression. He is very unhappy with his
situation. He plans to make changes as soon as his disability check
comes. He said that he wanted to rent an apartment with a friend.
Louis thinks that most people dislike him and he does not
really know how people judge him when he is not signholding. Louis
believes that when he is signholding people usually dont say too
much. They usually ignore me. He does not know how people treat
him when he is not signholding but they treat me like Im some kind
of scum, when he was signholding. Louis observed that people do
treat him differently when he is signholding and when he is not
signholding. He mentioned that people talk to him and say hi, nod,
and wave when he is not signholding.
Louis is signholding because this is the only way I can make
any money. He has been signholding for eight months and
according to him, the benefit of it was that he gets a little bit of
money, buy something to eat. Coffee in morning. open at six. .
generally youre pretty cold spending the night out. Louis thinks
the risk of signholding is that he Might get shot at by people driving
by. He has been shot at before while signholding, but luckily he
has not been hit.
He makes his own signs and he writes whatever his situation
is on the sign. He sometimes changes his sign slogans to South
American vet because he is a vet. I asked Louis if there are different
slogans that influence people to help him more, he said that he
doesnt know if people really read the sign or not.
Louis found his signholding comer one day, and since it
worked pretty well he kept coming back. He does not know if there
are certain locations that he cannot signhold at because, So far the
cops havent bothered me, where its a dangerous are, they dont like
you out there in traffic. He thinks that there are certain locations
that signholders can obtain more help and its just the feeling, I
Louis noted the rules among the signholders: Like thats
Indian comer right there, you cant signhold, only Indians can. He
said that there are really no rules for the signholder population
except dont get drunk and try to signhold. I dont drink.
Louis says in general, how much he makes a day varies, but
sometimes he makes seventeen dollars. On a bad day, he makes
about four dollars and on a good day he makes about thirty dollars.
He signholds three to four days a week because sometimes he needs
his sleep to recover from staying awake for two or three nights.
Louis is sleeping when he is not signholding. Louiss activities
outside of signholding depend on how much money he makes in a
day, If I make enough to Burger King or McDonalds, I go over there
Louis believes that he is different from other signholders: Im
not...well... I dont drink. A lot of signholders drink. He considers
himself to be like other signholders in that he signholds. Louis
thinks that he is different from the homeless who do not signhold: I
want to get off the street. Get a place and get cable TV again.
However, he does not know how he is like other homeless who do not
signhold, I dont know, I never compared myself to anybody. Louis
regards himself as being different from people who are not homeless
because They have vehicles and homes. He saw himself as being
like people who are not homeless because, Were human beings.
Jesuss sign reads, Bom disabled, cant find work that I can
do. Hate to ask for money, but your help would be greatly
appreciated. Thank you. God Bless you! He is a twenty-six year
old Mexican American male, who is not homeless but signholds for
his essential needs. He is single and never has been married. Jesus
completed the up to the ninth grade. His appearance is clean. He is
a veiy outgoing person and happy to participate in the interview.
Jesus is out in streets asking for help because of lack of money,
basic needs, need to eat, [and] like stuff to keep groomed.
Jesus used to sell cars at Burts for a year and a half but when
he lost his license due to minor ticket violations he lost his job. He
currently receives money from the government for his disability.
However, due to the fact that he made a lot of money at his last job,
they decreased his SSI. Right now, Jesus cant find a job that is not
telecommunications and with disability, its hard to find job.
He resides in an apartment, after rent and public service, his
disability is not enough money, he cannot survive on this income,
so he has to signhold. He used to live with his mother until he was
nineteen years old. He went to Japan in August of 1999 for a Boy
Scout program. An alternative school teacher referred him to this
program with all expenses paid. Upon his arrival to Colorado, his
mother and boyfriend were evicted so he had to live in motels for a
period of time.
Jesus says that he does not have enough food to eat daily and
gets money from panhandling to buy food. He needs clothes because
his are raggedy and tom with holes. Sometimes I dont have enough
money for laundry. If Jesus gets enough money for everything else,
he will buy his clothes from the thrift mart. He gets Medicaid for his
He has family but he does not usually ask his family for help.
His mother does not work and she has disabilities. She has bipolar
and maniac depression. His father is in prison and his brother has
two kids and has to work two jobs to meet ends himself. When I
asked Jesus if he had any friends, he answered, No, not really. I
used to have a lot of friends from long time childhood. He stated
that he does not go to them for help because a lot of them are
involved in clubbing and do drugs like speed.
Jesus expressed how he felt about himself, I feel good, but
being out here, it does hurt a persons pride, I rather work than
handouts. I asked him how he felt about his situation, he
answered, I feel that it sucks! It sucks being out here asking for
money. Jesus declared that he is unhappy with his situation: Hell
No! Really... Im not. Its unfair that... I understand that a lot of
people need a job, but standing at the curve out here asking for
money, it just sucks. Jesus plans to changes his situation, I plan
to find a job and eh get off of social security. I plan to be a
productive member of society, rather than a burden.
He assumes that people take pity on him and that they think
that he has a good head on his shoulder with a positive and outgoing
personality when he is not signholding. However, Jesus feels that
when he is signholding people judge him because he is so
dependent, and stating they probably think Im out here for booze or
drugs. He observed that people treated him well when he is not
signholding. People see my disability, they feel incline to help or
provide me with assistance. However, Jesus explained that the way
people treat him when he is signholding depends on whether or not
they could see his disability. Ive been out here on cold days... with
my coats and gloves on so they cant see my disability. People
cursed at me to get a job and that Im not really disabled. I just
want to take off my coat and let them see. Basically, when people
see his physical disability they treat him well, but when they do not
see it or think that he is lying they treat him poorly. Jesus knows
that people treat him differently when he is signholding and not
signholding because when he is signholding they have more pity for