Panhandling vs. Flying a Sign

By Robert Lee Payne, Denver VOICE vendor

Panhandlers and sign flyers are everywhere, standing between buildings and standing on street corners here in Denver. Circumstances in life such as divorce, the loss of a job, and the loss of your home can cause people to go to drastic measures to survive.

I asked many people what is the difference between flying a sign and panhandling. The biggest difference is that flying a sign involves a sign, and panhandling is a direct ask, though some think of flying a sign as a type of panhandling. Basically, you are asking total strangers to help you get things you need or want. 

I see people and some families holding signs everywhere I travel in Denver. Some are aggressive and others just stand there and wait patiently, but usually those with signs are less aggressive. The aggressive panhandlers just walk up to people out of the blue and start asking people for money. I have seen this while walking down the streets and when vending newspapers. 

Some aggressive panhandlers have come up to me at different times and have asked me for money or food. There are times when I have money or food, and I give it to them—what I can spare. Other times I do my best to direct them to the nearest soup kitchen or I bring up the fact that the Denver VOICE is always hiring vendors. This gives them an opportunity to help themselves make money and get what they need until they can stabilize themselves again.

Personally, I have flown a few signs when low on funds but have never walked up to people and panhandled aggressively. I was told to be carful of this, especially on the 16th Street Mall with all the traffic and other panhandlers. So I kept my distance and quietly flew signs. 

When I was still new to the area, I went to the temp agency and worked for a while until the job ran out. Then one day I came across a VOICE vendor who offered me a chance to make some money. I went to the office on Champa Street and learned about becoming a vendor. I found out vendors can also write for the newspaper for extra money. I stuck with the opportunity.

I was told by someone that vending newspapers is a form of legalized panhandling. I call it a job and a second chance to earn pocket money for my partner and myself. I consider the VOICE a job because they gave me an opportunity to work with the pubic in sales. Interacting with the public increases people skills. Buying the newspaper teaches me money management skills. Also, vendors are given the opportunity to become writers to earn extra money while vending, learning new skills. I have another chance to financially succeed in life. 

Panhandling and flying signs are no longer options for me. When sales are slow I rely on my husband for financial support. He helps me pay the rent, buy food, and go to food banks when funds are low for both of us. So panhandling and flying a sign are low on the totem pole, so to speak, now that I sell the VOICE. ■