The best story in the paper this week

Dateline: Sun 09 Aug 2009

Indianapolis Star reporter Francesca Jarosz is quickly building a rep as a reporter whose byline signals a must-read.

Does anybody agree with me that her Monday Page 1 story, "Panhandling street code: thick skin, little pride" was the best story that ran this week?

Jarosz tackled a topic that tends to push our hot buttons -- the homeless are typically either demonized or sentimentalized, with little middle ground.

She provided the middle ground, infusng her account with nuance, capturing in print the stories of individuals who stand by busy interesections with signs asking for handouts -- sometimes called "flying," because they are holding signs aloft.

The news hook was pan-handling and the mayor's push back, which includes a proposal to ban individuals from holding signs within 50 feet of stop signs or traffic signals. The proposal will be voted on Monday by the City-County Council.

This is a story that was begging to be written for years; we've all seen the guys at 86th and Keystone, I-65 and Raymond, etc. etc. etc. with their pathetic-looking cardboard rectangles, hand-lettered and held aloft. The usual message is a sob story: " needs money for food."

Her story was compelling because she got beyond the obvious and told some things only insiders would know -- about the street protocol that dominates flying: people work half-hour shifts, they look out for each other, they have a pecking order (whoever shows up first takes the first 30-minute slot).

Jarosz must have worked this for some time, and she worked it with integrity, because she got people to open up about their lives and why they choose to fly. 

Jarosz' account is especially notable for its honesty. One of the women featured, for instance, had to drink a beer to get up her liquid courage for the job, and then she spent most of the $40 she earned on beer (she also bought some food). Another couple, one reads, call themselves homeless in their sign, but they rent a place in Lawrence for $25 a night.

It will be interesting to see how the council votes tomorrow. Like the homeless, the proposal has pushed a lot of hot buttons.





Kendra [Member] said:

Not related comment.

someone named linda wanted to know how I was doing while unemployed. Late Friday I was offered a job pending a drug test and a background check. Since I have never taken illegal drugs... I expect to do fine. Thanks for folks concern. I wasn't trying to post a woe is me post, I was moreso trying to provide information that some of you may not realize since you are not, lucky you, in the unemployment lines during this economic struggle. Things are turning around for me.... Thanks!

2009-08-09 22:10:25

Tell The Truth [Member] said:

I have wondered about Kendra--thanks for the update.

And yes, Ruth, this was a fantastic story. The diatribe against Carmel's mayor above the fold yesterday, was good, too.

Only thing is...there are so few examples week-by-week.

2009-08-10 05:35:23

ruthholl [Member] said:

Kendra, that is great news. Someone told me Friday that a temp agency had put a sign on the door: "No more applications being taken today." Your persistence and skills paid off. If you can be more specific about the field you are entering, etc., I am sure readers would be interested. Or how you went about finding work.
You can also email me directly at
I agree, TTT-- Carmel story was good. Not much to read today, however, but there is that state fair free ticket...

2009-08-10 06:55:25

Whitebeard [unverified] said:

I know I am going to come off sounding right-wing (which I'm not) and self-righteous (which I'm not) here, but.....

When I see these people holding up signs at intersections, it can make me a little grouchy.

I'm physically disabled and in bad health, but I have been able to find a few ways to bring in income that do not involve standing at an intersection begging off of other people.

When I see these people, I say to my "chauffeur" (my wife) that they appear to be in decent physical physical shape so why can't they get some kind of a job? If you can stand at a street corner for hours holding a sign, then I would think you could find some kind of "honest" work to do.

There are only so many charity dollars to go around and I would personally rather see them be put to better use than to end up being spent at a liquor store.

2009-08-10 13:00:16

ruthholl [Member] said:

Whitebread, I think what so many fail to acknowledge is that there are many variations to homelessness, and rather than make all the "homeless" candidates for sainthood, we in fact need to see the reality (for some) as you describe it. I do believe the people standing on the roadways are part of the shadow economy and probably do not have enough education or resume creds to apply for a so-called decent job. Some folks prefer the streets and they prefer pan-handling -- that's the reality. And yes, they prefer to spend what they get on booze. When I wrote a column about this years ago -- and came out in favor of an ordinance to limit pan-handling -- I was called everything from un-Christian to fascist. Some folks explained, for religious reasons, they always give "something" -- maybe just a quarter. I have a friend who gives cigarettes (she smokes) and/or an offer of food.
But I honestly believe that many of these folks, maybe all of them, do not want to do "honest" work; they want the freedom to call their own shots etc. And yes, some of them are con artists, and some are criminals and some are mentally ill. It's not a one-size-fits-all population.

2009-08-10 17:05:20

indykjsharp [Member] said:

I gave $6 to a guy walking through Broad Ripple last week who claimed he was collecting for a group at North United Methodist Church. I found out from my sister-in-law, who works there, that no such group exists. So I got screwed. Fool me once. I'll give through regular channels from now on.

2009-08-10 19:32:03

indykjsharp [Member] said:

Oh, and yes, Ruth, it was a very good story for the reasons you cite.

2009-08-10 19:33:52

ruthholl [Member] said:

That is discouraging, indykjsharp.
I do know that Broad Ripple has a Methodist church that raises money for a food pantry run out of that church. The pantry is almost always wiped out by "the bridge people," the kids who live under and around the bridge, who are hungry and homeless.
But as Myrta Pulliam used to say, "Lying to a reporter ought to be a felony." I would amend that to include lying to a charitable and cheerful giver.
Sucks to get burned...

2009-08-12 09:53:55

linda [unverified] said:

KENDRA!!!! YAY! So glad to hear you landed a job.
Ruth--you nailed it about the homeless population--a very complex issue and unfortunately there are those who choose to be homeless (no rules), who won't go to a shelter because they aren't allowed in if they're drunk, and they have to be fingerprinted--so if they have a warrant out--they get to stay at a city facility instead (more damned rules). I know there are also many out there on the streets, who were made homeless by the closing of Central State--they desperately need the type of care (regulated meds) that can be provided by residential care. So a very complex problem. I disagree with our city officials that they will "end homelessness" is always going to be with us. Some generations will see more than others but bottom line there will always be those who choose to live on the streets and abide by their own rules.
And there are those (I digress) who say child abuse will be ended one day----ain't gonna happen. Again some generations will see more than others but it will always be a part of life on earth.
Back to the homeless question--I always wonder where they get their black sharpies to write their sign? Shoplifting? Or do they get together and share one?
That sounded mean, but wow, it is so complex and complicated.

2009-08-19 10:45:02

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