People Holding Cardboard Signs

Starting around November the number of people holding cardboard signs on the side of the road has increased in my area. I'm pretty good at ignoring people, but when I see them I'm quietly afraid they might try to jump in my car and demand I take them to a gas station.

People with cardboard signs have always been around, like scenery.  I lived in Florida when my son was little and we would see them, standing, frowning, looking shabby and sad. We got pretty used to them and once around age 7, as I was driving through an intersection, my son said, "oh, another stupid homo."

Shocked and appalled, I said, What?

"I'm so sick of seeing homos. They are so gross."


"Those homos, with the signs on the side of the road, they're everywhere."

Oh, you mean HOBOS. Not homos. phew. I thought for a second he was developing a hatred for homosexuals which I couldn't remember ever discussing with him. I don't think I've ever called someone a homo in my life. I'm not one to speak in abbreviations except maybe fridge. I say fridge.

After establishing them as Hobos and not Homos I explained that those sign yielders were also called homeless people and I explained they were just trying to get by and maybe eat something at a gas station. I also said I didn't think you're supposed to call people Hobos but if I had to choose between Hobo and Homo, I choose Hobo. A hobo can be a funny little traveling man with a knapsack and a tired look whereas the homo, well, that's not nice.


a little traveling happy hobo

Hmmmm, hobo? 

 I told him then that all people with cardboard signs on street corners are homeless. If you are on the side of a road without a cardboard sign and wearing heels, you are something else but I didn't get into that distinction with him then.

I learned at some point in my adult life that a high percentage of homeless people are actually mentally ill and can't afford to seek out mental health treatment for themselves. I also heard on an investigative news report that people who stand on the side of road with cardboard signs make more money than people who work full time. Now my allegiance is torn. I don't know if I feel bad for cardboard signers or irritated that they might make more money than me.

 I have two little girls now, 5 and 7, and they are recognizing the people holding cardboard signs too. I told them once that those are homeless people but then I changed my story and told them those are just people who don't have any money, or pride, and are asking others to give them money for food and other consumable goods. I didn't say the thing about pride. Relax.

That answer is simply not good enough for them. They want to know where those people, who are mostly men, came from, what happened to their houses, and if they are homeless, where did they sleep last night, where did they get those clothes they're wearing if they don't have any money. Why does that man have a dog, how did he get the marker for the sign, is that part of a box? Where did he get that box? . My answer is lengthy and philosophical. I say, "I don't know."

But at first I found myself conjecturing about the sign holders by making up stories for my girls about people I don't know. I just made shit up. I said, "Some people lose their homes when they don't have a job and when they don't have a job, they can't afford to stay in their house so they have to move and now they're here."

 Their rebuttal: "Where's their family?" "Are they married?" "Do they have kids"

Me, continuing to make shit up: "Some of them might have a family but that family often can't take in another person because their landlord doesn't allow additional people and sometimes people get sick of their kids and won't let them come home because sometimes people aren't nice to each other and maybe their parents died of old age or a disease and now they are alone in the world, fuck I don't know." I didn't say fuck.


Homo? no. Hobo? no. Homeless? Who knows. Man with cardboard sign sitting on a backpack on a corner by the gym. 


The man pictured above is holding a sign. I took this picture like a picture sniper. I didn't want to seem voyeuristic. This is the light I sit at every day on my way to the gym. Since my daughter can read and she is beginning to critically think and question society, she asked, "Is that man homeless?" To which I replied, "I do not know the living situation of that man or any man or woman who chooses to hold cardboard signs on the side of the road." That's my official party line for people holding cardboard signs. She read his sign which says, "Every cent counts." She said, "His sign doesn't even make sense, every cent counts? Like one two three four five cents, of course they count. She was disappointed and seemingly disgusted with the man and the word choice of his sign. What she doesn't understand yet is the double meaning words can have, so this was my opportunity to give her a mini lesson in semantics and linguistics which all 7 year olds love. I would explain to her that the word 'counts' doesn't mean counting like one two three but , it takes on the meaning of the word matters like every cent matters. She has seen me throw away pennies before so even this explanation wouldn't make sense to her either since every cent, doesn't matter. Sometimes I throw pennies away because they are laying around and I'm more worried about them getting sucked up into the vacuum than I am about making them count. So, I didn't say anything, I just repeated this line, "I do not know the living situation of that man or any man or woman who chooses to hold signs on the side of the road. Look we're at the gym."

The people holding cardboard signs is so common now that I think they are working in teams. My husband saw two men with signs working the corners and as a cop approached they scattered and ran away. This leads me to believe that people holding cardboard signs are not on the up and up and by giving them money out the car window only promotes and condones their behavior.

These people seem very nice and very sad and very humble so there is an element of pity I feel when they are standing next to my car window at an iffy personal space distance. I try to keep singing along to Kelly Clarkson, but part of me is very aware that a sad man with a cardboard sign is standing a hands length away from my window.

Just when I was feeling bad about never giving them money, my husband told me he almost threw down with one of them in a gas station parking lot.

A haggard man approached his window, which is pretty gutzy, since they usually stand around with the sign and don't try to talk to you. My husband said something like, no, I don't have any money or whatever and the man got upset and yelled at him, "You don't have any money and you drive this fancy car???" All accusatory as if working hard is a flaw. That's when my husband said, "You better get the fuck away from me right now."

And I said, "Yay, someone finally thinks you have a fancy car!" He laughed and said, "Shut Up." But, we worked really hard to buy that car and we also have five jobs between the two of us to afford our lives, and we'd hate to have to hit a man with our fancy car for getting out of hand with his begging. Just kidding. We'd never try to hit anyone with it.

I once gave a man on the corner with a cardboard sign a Wendy's chili, I think his sign suggested he wanted food. That was the last time I did that. There are so many men on corners with signs now I can't afford to give them money and pay for our fancy car at the same time. I'm working on ignoring them and slyly locking my doors as I approach the stop light. I still see people giving them money so the cardboard carriers will continue to stand there. People give me money when I go to work so I keep going to work. Same concept.

Homelessness is a social and a community problem. I'm not sure if handing people money out of your car window helps or hinders anything, but watch out if you have a fancy car, you might piss someone off if you don't give them money. You can do what you want because, "I do not know the living situation of that man or any man or woman who chooses to hold cardboard signs on the side of the road."


Ta Da!


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