AshevilleNews Stories

Reporter Chad Nesbitt goes undercover as panhandler


Professional Panhandlers

There are several places in the Asheville area where panhandler’s gather. One of them is on Tunnel Road near the on and off ramps of I-240. In our investigation we noticed the same people at this location for the past two weeks holding signs that say “Stranded Anything Helps”. These two people give hand signals to communicate with each other if one person is going to leave the site or not. They also give hand signals when police officers are nearby. We have also observed turf wars at this location. The younger panhandler’s bully the older panhandler’s, steal their tents, and if the younger panhandler’s decide to stand out on the street they muscle the older ones away. The older panhandler’s are living behind Overlook Village and Rooms To Go on Tunnel Road. These people are usually mentally challenged or alcoholics and refuse to get help at a shelter. The younger panhandler’s are living in the cheaper motels on Tunnel Road and are drug users. According to an older panhandler named Wayne he said, “They don’t want us working this area cause they think it’s theirs. They stole my damn tent cause they think I won’t comeback.” Wayne panhandles by himself and not in a team. He lives behind Rooms To Go.

In my investigation to see exactly how much you can make as a panhandler I made myself look pretty rough and needy. I didn’t shave for 6 days, I covered my face with power steering fluid that had dripped down on an old motor, tore my pants, messed up my hair, made myself a fake belly, and wore an old ball cap. I made a sign out of cardboard that said, “Anything Helps.”

Standing on the corner of the on ramp of I-240 next to Tunnel Rd I was surprised how fast I made $5.00. Everytime the light changed red people were handing me money. With in one hour I made $104.00. I estimated that if I stayed there a full 8 hours I could possibly make $600 to $800.00 a day but you don’t see professional panhandlers standing all day. Professional panhandlers make enough for alcohol or food items and they quit. A panhandler named “Krispy” said, “I can get a 6 pack of beer for $3.99 at the Amaco. Get me a can of Pringles and I’m set.”

All of the panhandlers I met downtown and on Tunnel Rd had a mental disability or they were alcoholics/drug users. They all refused to get help from the shelters.

Two days later I panhandled again and broadcast LIVE on Facebook just to show how fast I could make money. As soon as I stood on the street a lady gave me lunch with a Christian card in the bag. The light changed and I immeadiatly recieved $1.00. Then I came back and spoke to the LIVE audience on Facebook. I took the $105.00 I made panhandling, matched it with money of my own for a total of $210.00, and gave it to the Veterans Homeless Shelter in Asheville.

Truly Homeless People

Truly homeless people live at the shelters where they are clothed, fed, and can get a good night’s rest. In a 2015 ACT article written by John Boyle, Michael Woods director of Western North Carolina Ministries said “I see the same people asking for money on my way home daily,” Woods said. “For those people that are panhandling, I never see them at the Rescue Mission. Most panhandlers in this area can make between $75 and $150 a day if they are standing in a good spot. So they never come to us at the Rescue Mission for help. Giving to the panhandler is enabling them. It supports the poverty mentality.”

Woods noted that five years ago they created the “compassion card” and gave them to “donors, volunteers, local businesses and even the chamber to pass out to anyone who really wanted to help the homeless.”

“The card has instructions on where and how to get help, with a toll-free number that rings to my front desk,” Woods said. “We gave away about 5,000 cards, thanks to a donor who paid for a mass printing. Instead of giving money to the panhandler, give them this card, and if they really want help we are going to help them.”

“I have given out hundreds (of the compassion cards) over the years, and no one that is panhandling has ever taken me up on my offer,” Woods said. “The people we serve daily at the mission are not the same people you see standing on the street corners. The average panhandler is not an accurate picture of the homeless in Asheville.”

Share this story
Show More

Related Articles