Two stories that may challenge what you think about panhandlers

by Patty Templeton

Durango has had a contentious relationship with panhandlers. In 2014, the ACLU alerted Durango that its panhandling laws at the time were unconstitutional. The Supreme Court recognizes public sidewalks as free speech forums and panhandling is considered a form of free speech. The city was not allowed to shuffle off or silence panhandlers from the downtown.

In the years since, the Chamber of Commerce, City Council, Durango Police Department, concerned citizens, and Business Improvement District (BID) have worked together to attempt to create action points directed at the influx of panhandlers in summer months. The results being BID devised a dedicated homeless outreach coordinator, the police now have a community engagement officer, and BID hires street performers who then donate all of their tips to charities. The main thrust of BID’s efforts is the belief that giving to a panhandler is assisting a moment, whereas giving to a charitable organization can help annihilate the root causes of systematic economic struggle and homelessness.

Some people will decide to give to panhandlers, some people will give to charitable causes, and some people will do both, or nothing at all. No matter what, everyone deserves to be treated with respect, even if they’re sitting on the sidewalk. Those who panhandle (also known as “flying a sign”) are people, not problems, and it’s difficult to make accurate assumptions about their social and economic lives. Some panhandlers have jobs. Some have homes. Sure, not everyone asking for help is going to be a good, honest person, just like not everyone in a six-figure job will be a good, honest person. What we do know is that 78 percent of Americans live paycheck to paycheck and 56 percent of Americans say their debt is unmanageable. When unanticipated situations strike related to issues like health, transportation, or unsteady job markets, most Americans are one payday away from an economic apocalypse.

DGO stopped to talk to two folks flying signs. We wanted to hear what was on their minds and whatever part of their stories they were willing to share.

Josh, flying a sign by Walmart“I have a place”I’m just looking to get a little extra money to get my lights paid and all that other stuff, like groceries. I have a place out there on the Mesa. It’s a three-bedroom trailer.

I met my wife when I was 12. We’ve been married for the last nine years. We have four children. My 3-year-old is Elizabeth. Then you’ve got Shawn, the 5-year-old. Dominic is 6. Charlie is 9. He’s kinda got the autism thing going on. You have to have a lot of patience when you’re dealing with people with that, regardless of how old they are.

(My wife), she’s a stay-at-home mom. When my kids all go to school, she’s going to get herself a job, too. I’m looking for another one on top of the one I got. I’m dishwashing right now.

I try to fly for a couple hours before I go to work. It helps me get everything that my wife needs. Sometimes it takes longer than that. I try to make at least 80 bucks. Sometimes you don’t. Most of the time, I can come up with $75. It does help a lot.

“People are misunderstanding a book by its cover”I’m pretty confident in myself. I’m sure people probably see me as some beggar or something, but everyone who meets me seems to like me and it’s just that people are misunderstanding a book by its cover.

You always get mean-ass stares or ignorant comments, but all you gotta do is ignore it. It’s not like they can do anything to get me to move, ya know what I mean? If they want to be in a bad mood, that’s on them. It’s not affecting me at all.

There are people who come up to you and start a buncha shit and you’re like, “Look, I’m going to walk away from this or I’m gonna go to jail.” Just because you’re flying, they’ll drive by and shout, “Get a job, bitch,” and it’s like, “Dude, I have a job.” I do a lot more than flying.

“I have to go back to school”I want to get into graphic design. I have to go back to school for that. It’s going to take a lot more effort on my side. Know what I mean? I didn’t graduate from high school. When I first started becoming an adult, I was 16 and I was working at a warehouse and I was making $600 a week and it was like, “Hey man! I don’t need school anymore.”

I didn’t want to be in school … I was in foster care and they always expected the worst outta me. I kinda followed that reputation and made a lot of bad choices. I’ve been through a lot of stuff. When I was a kid, I got into a lot of trouble. I’ve been trying to straighten myself out since then. You know what I mean?

I was working at the San Juan biodiesel plant when I first moved to Dove Creek, Colorado. That was about six years ago. My foot slipped into a grain auger and got ripped off. After that, I went into a depression and did a lot of drinking. My wife was there through the whole thing. I really have a lot of respect for my wife. She helped me correct myself. I think if somebody has that involvement in their life, they try to do better.

“Takes about two hours from here to where I live”I’ve never had any issues with Durango cops. They wave at me. Even when I’m hitchhiking, I’ve had highway patrol men stop and ask if I’m alright or if I need water and I’m like, “Naw, I’m good, just heading home.”

Sunday, it’ll take about two hours before someone would pick you up. Every other day, half hour tops, if I’m hitchhiking, to get home. Takes about two hours from here to where I live (on a bike).

I don’t smoke pot. I don’t drink anymore. I’ve made a lot of changes since I had my kids. They’ve straightened me out. That’s what keeps me going, is my kids and my wife. I have to be the person that provides for them no matter what it is. It’s well worth it; you get to see your kids grow. That’s what I enjoy.

Beth, flying a sign in Downtown Durango “Traveled from one coast to another”I’ve been traveling for seven years with my husband. We started our journey in Atlanta, Georgia. We have traveled from one coast to another … A guy saw us with our packs and said, “Hey, where you headed?” and we said, “Oh, we’re not sure. We’ve been here a while, but we’d like to go somewhere else.” He said, “Well, I’m going up to Durango, Colorado, hop in.”

It’s a small town. You don’t have big city problems. The big cities don’t work. You get swallowed up. Durango is a great town, yes, but there are some drawbacks. It’s so travel-friendly, in the summer it gets inundated and the work here is hard to get. When you can get work, it is great, but the rent here is insane. So, we’re tenting. We’re not in the officially sanctioned area. We’ve been in Durango off and on for four years. We’ve been back this time for about a month, so far.

“I want to get us up and out of the streets”For me, I decided to try doing journalist stuff that didn’t work out. For my husband, his journey has been longer than mine. His father got sick, his mother had Alzheimer’s and he took care of her for four years as best he could. She needed 24-hour assistance … When he put her into a nursing home, the state stepped in and took everything because it was his father’s farm and passed to his mother. She didn’t have a will or anything and the state stepped in and took everything for her long-term care. That set him traveling. He ended up down in Atlanta. He’s a finish painter looking for work. Hopefully, we have a house he’s going to be doing shortly. He can make $25 to $30 an hour if he has a job. But here’s the thing: you can get a job and it will be a couple week’s work and great money and then three weeks without work. You have to spread that money over a long period of time.

Right now it is a matter of, I want to get us up and out of the streets. I want to be out of camping. I want to be inside for the winter. I’m taking the culinary school at Manna soup kitchen. I’ll be doing that till December. I’ll be looking for work then in a local restaurant and then a living situation with my husband, myself, and possibly a roommate.

“I’m not just a lazy bum”We do what we can. We don’t break the law. In the four years we’ve been here, we have never once had a ticket for anything, done any jail time. We don’t steal. I’m not just a lazy bum. I have worked. I do work when I can. My husband has health issues we are trying to straighten out and he can’t get continuous work.

What I would like to see is something I’ve seen in other places which is businesses take the initiative of hiring people with signs. I did that in Venice Beach. I made 20 bucks a day, granted, but it was 20 bucks I didn’t have to beg for. It was a pizza place.

The thing is is that a lot of people that are in my situation don’t have IDs. Getting a job at McDonald’s or an established place is really difficult because there are so many travelers like me who don’t have ID. I had my purse stolen on Main two years ago while I was flying a sign. Someone came up to me, grabbed my purse, and ran. I don’t care about the $7 I had in there, I care about the IDs. The IDs took me seven months to get back, to get the paperwork. It was one thing after another and a nightmare and I did have friends that helped, but it took seven months.

“Sometimes I feel really invisible”The sidewalk is public domain. Don’t ask us to move all the time. As long as I’m not blocking the sidewalk or a doorway or on someone’s physical property, don’t tell me to move. We need to ease the tension between us and the city.

What offends me is when I see people pull their kids in closer or their purse or check their back pocket for their wallet.

People not looking at me. It’s not like I’m invisible. Sometimes I feel really invisible. I’m a very social person, a very open person. It’s extremely hard to do this. I don’t recommend this to anyone. If you’re able to be inside, do it. I struggle on a daily basis to meet our needs. I have a husband who has anxiety issues and health issue and I love him dearly and I do what I have to do.

Interviews have been edited and condensed for clarity. Patty TempletonDGO Staff Writer


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Social Media

Most Popular

Get The Latest Updates

Subscribe To Our Weekly Newsletter

No spam, notifications only about new products, updates.


On Key

Related Posts

70s idioms

25 Freaky deaky 70s idioms

From the Renaissance to the Age of Enlightenment, there has been no shortage of periods in history that have shaped society in terms of scientific


One-Hit Wonders of Hip-Hop

In the 50 years since its inception, hip-hop has become a powerful force to be reckoned with. Born in the Bronx and raised by Black

Receive the latest news

Subscribe To Our Weekly Newsletter

Get notified about new articles

Explore the weed life with DGO Magazine

Contact Information

Find Us Here:

Leave us a message