Pt. 1: "The True Payout to Panhandling"

On Tuesday, NewsCenter 16 began its three-part investigative series, “The True Payout to Panhandling.”

Most people have driven past it before, the destitute beggar clinching onto a sign, detailing the ills that have plagued his or her life. But few, if any, know the real story behind the face, one NewsCenter 16 discovered, stands to make more money than you'd ever like to know.

Braving the cold and public humiliation, NewsCenter 16’s Kevin Lewis traded-out a suit and tie for a cardboard sign begging for compassion.

The sign read, “Need Money. Need Food. Please Help My Family.”

Help it turns out is something Kevin got plenty of, almost too much of. So much, it became ironic, as a beggar, Kevin likely made more money than most of the people who donated to him.

It was a Monday morning in December when Kevin bundled-up from head-to-toe and stood at the intersection of S.R. 933 and Cleveland Road. Thousands of cars passed by in the 22 degree weather, but not one person dropped a dime in his cup.

After 45 minutes, Kevin packed-up and crossed town to a four-way stop at the intersection of Brick and Gumwood Roads in Granger. There, traffic was slow and steady, allowing drivers more time to be guilt-tripped by Kevin’s sign and face.

In a matter of minutes, Kevin earned his first donation, a $5 bill.

"Thank you very much mam, I appreciate it,” Kevin told a female driver. “You're welcome, stay warm,” she replied.

Not ten minutes later, Kevin picked-up his first $20 bill.

"Thank you very much for your kindness, I appreciate it. Have a good day,” Kevin remarked.

Just seconds after that donation, a different driver handed-out another $20 bill.

"Right now I’m thinking to myself, so many cars pass me, but all it takes is one or two an hour giving out $20 and I mean you're golden,” Kevin said after making $50 in less than half an hour.

Fact is, fifteen minutes don’t go by, without someone handing-out some type of cash.

"I got $3, a $5 bill, $10 and the last one here was $20,” Kevin said as he counted-up his collection of cash.

"It’s amazing to me that people would just shell $20 out of their wallet, not knowing me from Adam. All I have is a sign that says, ‘I need help and money,’” Kevin said holding up his already worn cardboard sign.

As the day carried on, some drivers donated advice, in place of cash.

“I can recommend some places that I know are hiring right now,” a woman said. “I would love that. Do you have a pen or paper or anything,” Kevin replied. “Well Burger King, the Outpost Sports,” she advised before driving away.

"Hope Community Church in Niles, if you call them, they will deliver food to you,” another lady told Kevin.

But there was no need to call the church, after one man delivered an entire bag of non-perishable food.

"Oh thank you very much sir, I appreciate it. Have a nice day,” Kevin said.

Despite the common perception, it seemed in Granger, beggars really could be choosers.

"I feel bad, that last guy that donated to me looked like he could have really used the money himself,” Kevin commented.

In eight hours, more than three dozen cars stopped, donating everything from 45 cents to seven $20 bills.

After counting the thick stack of cash, Kevin earned a grand total of $300 in one day, that’s $37.5 an hour. If all stayed the same, Kevin would be set to make $1500 a week and $78,000 a year, tax free.

According to South Bend’s Kruggel Lawton CPA, that figure is the equivalent of a single tax filer taking home roughly $112,219 a year before taxes. It’s also equal to a married person with two kids earning an annual salary of $98,582.

"Have a very Merry Christmas, I really do appreciate it,” Kevin said as he thanked a donor.

However as night fell, the task of collecting donations became more challenging when another panhandler started begging at the same intersection. After a taped conversation, Kevin quickly discovered, the local beggar was one of the best cons in town. To see his entire tell-all interview, tune into NewsCenter 16 at 5:30 on Wednesday, for part two of our investigative series, “The True Payout to Panhandling.”

Police and homeless advocates say, despite how bad you may feel, do not donate to people begging on the side of the road. Instead, think about contributing to local charities that assist people who are truly homeless.

For a list of legitimate not-for-profit organizations in our area, just click on the document attached to the top of this story.

The money Kevin collected will go to a family selected by the Salvation Army, whose needs match those described on the sign Kevin held while panhandling. On Thursday, NewsCenter 16 will donate all $300 to that family before sharing their story with you.


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