The project (2005)

Have you ever walked the streets of your town, seen a beggar and wondered what he or she would turn over?

Well, I have. I walked the streets of Germany or Ireland many times and wondered what drives people out into the streets, begging for a living.
What makes people drop their dignity? How much money is involved? Why do parents have their children beg?

In 2005 I went under cover for five days. I went out and begged for money on five days at five different locations in County Cork.
I was very surprised. I didn’t come across any abuse whatsoever.
I bet that a barman is subject to more abuse than a beggar.
Sit back and read the reports which I wrote during the five days.

Day 1: Youghal

Even though I had to call it an early day with today’s begging mission, I would not say that it wasn’t successful.
At 11 a. m. I placed myself outside the main entrance of the new Tesco Supermarket in Youghal.
I must say, this mission is the most difficult one I’ve ever let myself into. It wasn’t as easy as I expected to sit down, with a sign in front of me saying “Thank you” and underneath that it says “God bless you”.
In front of me I have a little cookie tin, where people can throw in their money. It is such a weird feeling to have people look at the sign and then look at you. Children turning around, starring at you, while their parents are pulling them along franticly.

No begging at Tesco’s

I already had made some money, when staff from the supermarket came along and asked me to move along, as it was not allowed to be begging on Tesco property. They were very polite and explained to me that a customer had drawn their attention to my presence.
I understood where they were coming from. The reason why I had placed myself there in the first place was to find out how long it would take until somebody from the store would come and approach me.
I got into my car and moved on to Barry’s Lane in the heart of Youghal. I sat down by the gate at 11:32 a.m.
I was sitting with my back towards the gate, facing the Main Street. This way, people could see me a mile away and get their money ready. I didn’t have to wait long before people started to throw money into my tin. I kept removing 1 and 2 Euro coins, so people wouldn’t think I had enough dosh already. At one stage a boy, maybe 12 or 13 years of age, put his hand into his pocket, unfolded a 10 Euro note. Inside this note was a one Euro coin, which he donated to my well-being.
I already felt strange about sitting there before this incident, but now I felt guilty like hell.

Under surveillance

At one stage a couple of people, an elderly man and a woman came along and sat down across from me, watching me for nearly half an hour.

I know you

Suddenly I saw the first person I knew from Midleton. A bar woman from a pub, I go to. She walked straight towards me. I think she wasn’t too sure how to behave, whether she should ignore or approach me.
I started and said hello to her. She looked all worried and said “Wolfgang, what on earth are you doing? Are you all right? Can I get you a cuppa?
We approached the height of lunchtime and suddenly more people I knew were coming along and approached me. There were always some people standing around me chatting away. Some told me that they knew from the radio that I was coming to town, but they didn’t know that it was to be today.

Above minimum wage

This was certainly not working according to plan. I decided to call it a day. A shame in a way, but on the other hand it was okay, as I had collected enough impressions for the first day.
Tomorrow I’m heading to Mitchelstown, where I’m certain that nobody knows me. I don’t think it would make too much of a difference if someone knows me, but in Youghal it was just too bad and maybe too close to home.
However, in 2 hours and 11 minutes I collected €17.13, which makes it €7.85 an hour, which in return is well above the national minimum wage of €7 an hour.
I’m positive, that if I had been able to take full advantage of the busy lunchtime in Youghal I would have collected much more money.

Let’s see how it goes tomorrow.

Day 2: Mitchelstown

Day 2 was easier to get going than day 1. First of all I was further away from home and second I didn’t really care any more how people looked at me.
I was stuck in traffic as I got to Mitchelstown, but this circumstance gave me the opportunity to take time and have a closer look at the town’s layout. Until now, I’d only ever driven through the town, with the exception of one lunch stop.

Location, location, location

I parked at the huge car park in the centre of town, also called The Square. I looked down at the Main Street and saw the bus stop, a statue and across the street Co-Op Supervalu.
I noticed that some people came out of the Supermarket and crossed the street to get to the car park with their shopping.
I decided that this spot, right across from the supermarket, would be mine.

Pigs

I placed myself next to a bin on one side and a bench on the other, facing the Main Street. Right across from me was Co-Op Supervalu. I noticed the hardly ever moving traffic, which was trying to make its way through the town. A lot of haulers were on the road. One thing I wasn’t able to miss were the endless number of pig transporters. Not only that the smell could turn anyone into a vegetarian, but also the noise the pigs made was from another world.

Very generous

Somehow I was central and yet in the middle of nowhere. Okay, Supervalu was across the street, but on the side I was sitting on was absolutely nothing. Besides a chippy trailer, which hadn’t opened for business yet, there was not one single shop behind or next to me, just a huge car park.
However, my calculation started to pay off. People started approaching me, putting money into my little cookie tin. Old, young, very young, female, male, well dressed, less well dressed, everybody was very generous. I stayed there for 3 hours and 25 minutes and made €35.95.

150% the national minimum wage

Now, that isn’t bad at all. It works out to be 10.52 an hour, which is 150% compared to the national minimum wage.
One thing was rather funny. Parents with young children tended to take their kids up in their arms as they walked pass me.
As if this wasn’t enough, suddenly somebody was also doing this with her little doggy. I was waiting for someone to come along with a Labrador to see how the dog was sitting in the owner’s arms.

Do not feed

I for one stopped giving beggars money a long time ago, as I believed that they were only drinking it away. There was a time when I went to get something to eat to give it to a beggar. Now I realise, why this is a bad idea, as several people today had the same idea. They got a sandwich somewhere and offered it to me. I could obviously only eat a certain amount of sandwiches and anyone who knows me agrees that I should slow down with my food consumption. For a little while I was contemplating to write a second sign, which says, “Do not feed. Am on Diet”.

No drink on duty

At one stage a man came up to me, he looked a little bit like a “colleague”, but I must say that I hadn’t seen him beg. He looked into my little cookie tin and said “not bad”. Then he offered me his tobacco to roll a cigarette. After I declined this offer he offered me a drink from his wine bottle, which was concealed in a brown paper bag. Again I declined this friendly offer, saying “I don’t drink on duty”, he must have thought that I was some kind of a “new age beggar”.

Fermoy is calling

After 3 hours and 25 minutes I decided to relocate, packed my gear and went to my car. I headed for Fermoy. I was quite looking forward to Fermoy, but when I got there it was lashing down. I had nearly €36 and decided to be happy with the turnover and headed home.

Begging is tiring

I must admit, it is very hard to be sitting for all that time on a not too comfortable seating equipment in form of an empty milk bottle crate. Worse is, that you can’t just get up to go to the toilet. You would have to take everything along or lock it into the car, which seemed to be a lot of hassle. Another thing is, that I didn’t really feel comfortable to go into any of the local premises either to have a cup of coffee or have a wee, as I dare not to think of the looks I would get. It was bad enough to feel the eyes of the locals in my back as I packed the stuff into my car, just before I left to go home. What did go through their heads, when they saw me putting everything into my Ford Scorpio?

Another thing I’ve learned is, that this inactivity is most tiring. In the evenings I feel as if I’ve been chopping wood all day.

So far: Average/hr
Youghal
2 hrs 11 minutes – €17.13 equals €7.85/hr 7.85
Mitchelstown:
3 hrs 25 minutes – €35.95 equals €10.57/hr 9.48

Day 3: Mallow

The weather was awful.
Today’s plan was to go begging in Mallow. I listened to 96FM’s weather forecast and was led to believe that the weather would pick up coming closer to lunchtime.
I headed to Mallow and got there at around 11 a.m.
I had already spent some time there in the wheelchair, but then I had looked at the town from a completely different angle.

Beggars can’t be choosers

When I got there the weather was worse than in Cork. It was pouring down, with strong winds blowing down the Main Street. I couldn’t see anywhere sheltered and decided to park the car and then just sit anywhere on the Main Street, still believing that the weather would pick up.
I pulled into the Tesco car park and switched off the engine. I didn’t get out of the car immediately as there was something interesting on 96, which I just wanted to hear the end of. While I was sitting there, the car was shaking from the force of the wind. The rain was unbelievable. NO, I wasn’t going to stay here. However much I wanted to beg in Mallow, I learned that beggars can’t be choosers and decided to head for Cork City.

McCurtain Street/Patrick Hill

I thought if the weather was as bad as it was here, I would have the alternative of Merchant’s Quay or some other shopping centre, whereas in Mallow I either stick it out here in the street or leave it.
I headed to Cork and parked in Merchant’s Quay multi storey car park, which was hard enough to get in to.
When I got out of the shopping centre I realised that the weather was by far not as wild as in Mallow. Okay, it was raining a little bit, but that was fine. I decided not to beg in the centre of the city, as this was my territory for Friday, instead I headed to McCurtin Street.
I placed myself at the bottom of Patrick’s Hill – Corner McCurtin Street.
It was 12:38 p.m. The weather started to get worse. But now I was sitting here and that’s where I intended to stay, unless some law enforcement officer was going to move me on.

€€€

Even though, people were very busy with holding on to their umbrellas, people didn’t only stop to give me money, they were incredibly generous! 1s and 2s of the coin variety and €5 notes were flying towards me. I couldn’t believe it.
I stayed there for 2 hrs and 21 minutes and made €62.66, which equals  €26.66 an hour. That was incedible.
Cars even stopped and passenger would get out, give me some money and get back into the car again.

Next stop – Bantry

The only other rural town I was able to take full advantage of was Mitchelstown, but the town didn’t provide me with a “perfect” location, whereas Bantry is, so I believe, the perfect little but busy rural town. Let’s see what the day holds in peto.
Friday I’ll be back in Cork City and check out the City Centre.

So far: Average/hr
Youghal
2 hrs 11 minutes – €17.13 equals €7.85/hr 7.85
Mitchelstown:
3 hrs 25 minutes – €35.95 equals €10.57/hr 9.48
Cork, McCurtain St.
2 hrs 21 minutes – €62.66 equals €26.66/hr 14.56

Day 4: Bantry

The weather didn’t look all that promising, when I left Midleton, but the closer I got to Bantry, the brighter the sky got.
I arrived there a little later than expected. At 11:15 I parked the car and decided to visit the public toilet, which was only a little bit better than our famous toilet at Merchant’s Quay.

Ignorant

I checked out the situation and decided to set up camp on the same side as Supervalu Supermarket. I’ve learned that there isn’t much point to sit outside shops, as it wasn’t in the shop’s interest and it doesn’t make sense to make enemies. I placed myself at the corner of the Main Street, right across from the Bank of Ireland.
Town wasn’t too busy, but slowly people got going. I was surprised how little attention I got. At first I believed I had misjudged this little town altogether, as people just chose to ignore me.

The buck gets rolling

It took one elderly lady to get the Euro rolling. She stopped, dug out some money and threw it into my little cookie tin. The next Euro was right behind her.
Okay, the beginning was made. It was not to be the same kind of experience I had the day before in Cork, but it turned out to be the second best hourly turnover so far.

Job offer

One woman stopped and asked me whether I needed a job! I liked this idea. Gardening was on offer. I knew that my hourly takings were over €12 and I was surely not tempted to trade it for anything less. Especially not if I was running the risk of breaking my back only to take home less money. Still, I was delighted that someone came up with a job offer.

Help or support?

I wondered whether giving money would be right at all. What kind of help is it? Is giving money really helping, or is it supporting? Supporting the survival on the street.
Helping would rather be a matter of helping someone to change the situation, wouldn’t it? Well, as you can see, sitting on the street gave me the opportunity to do some thinking.

Are you sick?

Another lady came up to me and asked, “Who are you collecting money for?” “Myself”, I replied. “What’s wrong with you?” she asked. “Nothing”, I replied. “Do we want to buy a farm?” the old lady continued. “No, I’m saving for a holiday!” I told her. The lady opened her purse, and threw €1 into my little cookie tin. I could have told her anything, she would have given me some money either way.

Generous children

Again, I had a young girl look at me, put her hand into her pocket and hand out a bit of change. Oh, I felt so rotten. The girl was so good hearted, gave me her sweet money, how nice of her.
Together with her money, I made €31.72 in 2 hrs and 13 minutes. Which turns out to be €14.31 an hour. Who needs a job?

The weather did not stay dry. It was getting rather wet and windy. I was dressed dry and warm, which of course wouldn’t always be the case for people on the street. Still, it is rather uncomfortable in these conditions.

So far, I’ve begged for 10 hrs and 10 minutes.

Tomorrow I’m heading back to Fortune City to check out the City Centre!

So far: Average/hr
Youghal
2 hrs 11 minutes – €17.13 equals €7.85/hr 7.85
Mitchelstown:
3 hrs 25 minutes – €35.95 equals €10.57/hr 9.48
Cork, McCurtain St.
2 hrs 21 minutes – €62.66 equals €26.66/hr 14.56
Bantry
2 hrs 13 minutes – €31.72 equals €14.31/hr 14.50

Day 5: Cork City

Friday turned out a right disaster. It was raining in buckets. When I got to Cork I had a prime location in mind, I had to make sure that I was sheltered, or I would catch pneumonia.

Best locations taken

When I got to my desired spot, I saw that a “colleague” had already placed himself there. All other sheltered places were in doorways of shops, which I didn’t want to use. I suppose if I had been a genuine beggar I would not have cared about the shopkeepers and would had been cheeky enough to just sit anywhere.

Too busy to be kind

I decided to head towards Merchant’s Quay and ended up placing myself just around the corner from Merchant’s Quay Shopping Centre, with view of the River Lee and the prominent public toilet. This way I could at the same time keep an eye on the toilets, to see whether I could spot anything weird going on there. But I must admit, I didn’t see anything of interest.
I was only semi sheltered as the wind was blowing enough rain onto me from the side. I thought it might be a good enough spot, as there was enough pedestrians walking up and down the street, it wasn’t any less pedestrians than on McCurtain Street only a couple of days earlier. Also, there was a bus stop with a bus going to Knocknaheeny.

Well, I thought wrong. It was the worse spot so far. It took forever before someone put some money into my little cookie tin.
After roughly an hour the weather started to pick up in the sense that the rain eased down a little. I decided to move myself more into Patrick Street and moved just around the corner. I wasn’t sitting there for very long when heaven broke lose. The rain was just unbelievable.

Let’s call it a day

 

I decided to call it a day, after all, I had made my point.
I spent five days begging at five different locations and got a pretty good picture of the money that comes in. On Friday I made it just above the national minimum wage. In 1 hr and 38 minutes I made €11.88, which equals €7.27 an hour.

Hearts of gold

In five days I learned that the Irish people’s hearts are made of gold. I could really see how some people felt really good after they had thrown some money into my little cookie tin. I also saw how some people started to walk a little bit faster, pretending they didn’t see me, but they were the minority. Yes, some people looked annoyed, others, especially in rural areas, looked at me in disbelief and shook their heads as they passed by. Others looked scared or somehow uneasy. A lot of school-kids looked bemused, some were giggling when they passed me, some looked sad, but all of them looked at the same time thoughtful.

Dignity?

It was hard to sit down and beg for money, especially if there wasn’t much coming in. Dignity was a word, which disappeared at times out of my vocabulary, but reappeared very quickly when I was sitting on McCurtain Street, when the money was basically flying at me.

It’s all about location

McCurtain Street proved to me that there is a lot of money involved when you sit at the right location, it is as it is with every other “business”, the location is absolutely everything when it comes to turnover.
The real question that stays unanswered for me at the end of this project is, do we really help these people, who are out in the streets of our towns, begging? One thing seems for sure, most of these people do need help, but is money the answer?

Summary

Altogether I collected €159.34 within 11 hrs and 48 minutes. Which gives me an average hourly “income” of €13.50, with Cork City (€7.27/hr) being the lowest and McCurtain Street in Cork (€26.66/hr) being the highest turnover.

I have donated the total collections of €159.34 to Simon Shelter.

So far: Average/hr
Youghal
2 hrs 11 minutes – €17.13 equals €7.85/hr 7.85
Mitchelstown:
3 hrs 25 minutes – €35.95 equals €10.57/hr 9.48
Cork, McCurtain St.
2 hrs 21 minutes – €62.66 equals €26.66/hr 14.56
Bantry
2 hrs 13 minutes – €31.72 equals €14.31/hr 14.50
Cork City
1 hr 38 minutes – €11.88 equals €7.27/hr 13.50

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table with listed turnover