Homelessness Myth #20: They Make Millions

by on May 18, 2011 · 6 comments

in Homelessness

“Well, maybe homeless people don’t make millions, but they certainly make thousands,” some housed people say.  The myth that homeless people make millions or thousands of dollars is a myth of gigantic proportions.  This myth incorporates the mistaken belief that homeless people make big money by trading on their homelessness.  This myth is simply not true.

Panhandling is one of the primary ways a homeless person can raise funds.  In today’s parlance “begging” is called “panhandling.”

I learned a great deal about the nature and necessity of panhandling from a young homeless woman I met outside a theater in Los Angeles.  It was 9:30 p.m. on a cool winter’s night when I walked by her as she stood by a shopping cart that held her young child and her infant.

“Can you spare some change?” she asked.

I reached into my pocket and pulled out two $1 bills.  As I handed these singles to the young mother, she pulled out a wad of bills from her pocket.  She proceeded to place my bills on top of the high stack that she already had.

I began to walk away when I thought I would talk to the young mother.

“May I ask you a question?”


“I’m wondering about something.  It’s late at night, you have two young children and you have a lot of money.  Why are you and your children outside in the cold?”

“Well, you don’t understand.”

She pulled out all of her money from her pocket.  For the first time I noticed that the high stack of bills was actually a bunch of crinkled one dollar bills stacked one on top of another.

“Before you came along, I had $26 here.  Now, with your two dollars, I have $28.  I’ll be out here until I get $36 for a motel room for me and my babies.”

I was silent.  I had no more cash to give her.  So, I wished the young mother well and left with a heavy heart. Obviously, panhandling is not as lucrative as some of us think.  And, this young mother taught me that appearances can be deceiving.

Recycling is another way a homeless person can make money.  We’ve all seen a homeless person pushing a cart filled to overflowing with cans and bottles.  Sometimes there are even plastic bags bulging with recyclables tied to the sides of the cart.

Can a homeless person “get rich quick” by recycling?  Not really.  Working from dawn to dust, a homeless person may gather as much as $40 in recyclables.  Just enough for a motel room and perhaps one meal. And recycling is not easy work.  It requires some mental ability and more than a little physical strength.  Certainly, this method of pursuing an income is not available to the elderly or infirm.

panhandling is not as lucrative as some of us think…

My homeless friend, Danny, recycled cans and bottles every day for years.  Each morning Danny would follow the same route, visiting the same locations searching for discarded recyclables.  He considered recycling his job and he was devoted to his work. A lovely, responsible person, Danny was hired not long ago by the City to do part-time maintenance work.  Although he enjoys his new job, Danny says that he misses his old job of recycling and the places he would visit every day.

Government benefits are another way that a homeless person can acquire funds to live.  In California, general relief (GR), also known as “welfare,” is a county-funded program.  Although each of the 58 California counties sets its own amount of benefits, San Diego County provides $234 as a loan to a single qualifying adult.

A $234 loan per month is a far cry from riches for a homeless person.  Often a homeless person will use some of his/her GR to rent a motel room for several nights and to pay for food during this same period of time.  His/her goal is to clean up, rest and possibly remember what it is like to be housed once again.  This brief respite gives the homeless person an opportunity to leave the harsh conditions of being unsheltered.

Other benefits a homeless person may qualify for include:

  • SSI:  Supplemental Security Income is available to assist the elderly, blind or disabled person who has low or no income.  In the year 2000, SSI’s maximum monthly benefit was $512.
  • SSDI:  Social Security Disability Insurance is a monthly benefit for disabled people who have worked within 10 years of the disability and paid Social Security taxes. In the year 2000, the average benefit was about $750.

See www.socialsecurity.gov and http://www.ndrf.org/NDRF%20Patient%20Handbook/SecB_pp265-274.PDF

Once again, the monthly benefits available to a qualifying adult through SSI or SSDI will not make a homeless person rich.   The goal of these programs is to provide a safety net for those who do qualify.  These funds may be sufficient for a homeless person to secure housing.

People are homeless for a host of reasons.  But, for whatever the reason, unsheltered people have no homes.  Homeless people are not pretending to be poor.  They do not have the funds for three meals a day and a roof over their heads every night.

No homeless person is getting rich through panhandling, recycling or any government program.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

mr.rick May 18, 2011 at 9:51 am

My girl friend gets $308 from social security disability and $386 from SSI and $165 food stamps. Every time she gets a cola raise, her food stamps get cut accordingly. We can hardly wait til she hits 55 yrs old so we can both sign up at the senior center. At least we live where rent can be had for around $350 to $400,$150 to$225 electric, $30 water, phone $30. Altho she’s not homeless she surely hopes for mild weather.


Christine Schanes May 18, 2011 at 10:24 am

Hi, Mr. Rick,

Thanks for your comment.

And thanks for the specifics about the source and amount of income. I appreciate you sharing. Sometimes people don’t have a clue about how much life actually costs.

Would you agree that no one is getting rich from available benefits?



mr.rick May 18, 2011 at 10:38 am

Yes, I agree no one is getting rich. The small bills she has eat up any thing she receives. It is a benefit only to the people she pays. But at least for now she isn’t on the street. If people keep thinking this crap,it will surely be cut.


Christine Schanes May 18, 2011 at 12:53 pm

Hi, Mr. Rick,

I agree with you. If people believe the myth that people are getting rich from benefits, the benefits will surely get cut.

However, here we are speaking the truth to the myth. Hopefully, people are listening.

Please stay in touch,


Zoe December 3, 2013 at 12:06 pm

I’m working on a school project and want to know if you think that poor and homeless mothers would benefit from a free daycare? If so, how?


Christine Schanes December 3, 2013 at 8:47 pm

Hi Zoe,

Thanks for your question. Absolutely, poor and homeless mothers would definitely benefit from free day care.

As you probably know, it is not safe for a child to be left at home alone. Poor and homeless moms want their children to be safe. Therefore, poor and homeless mothers would not leave their child at home alone. And so they can’t go to work without someone taking care of their babies.

With free day care, poor and homeless mothers would be able to take their babies to a safe place where caring people will take care of their babies so that the poor and homeless mothers can go to work.

Working is important to poor and homeless mothers because they want to take care of their babies.

Education is also important because with education poor and homeless mothers can get better jobs, make more money for their babies and show their children that education leads to better jobs.

Please let me know if I’ve answered your question sufficiently. Thank you for this opportunity to share my thoughts on poor and homeless mothers and the importance of free day care. Kindly let me know how you do on your project.

Best Wishes,


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