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John Hargrave: Homeless Marketing Consultant

There's nothing funny about the homeless. Theirs are tragic stories, lives shattered by alcohol, crack, and Listerine. I recently read the startling fact that 100% of the homeless do not have homes. This kind of appalling statistic is what drove me to become a homeless marketing consultant.

The average beggar makes only 58 cents per hour.1 But let's be honest: the average beggar isn't usually selling himself. I once watched a crippled man sit on the street for an hour, on a wheeled board, in arctic January winds. Over the course of an hour, he made zero money, but he had zero hustle. As I sipped espresso from the five-star Italian-fusion restaurant where I watched him, I wanted desperately to help. Work the crowd! I coached him in my mind. Tap dance! Do a little softshoe! True, he had no shoes, but still.

That was my turning point. I decided to work with the homeless, identifying their unique skills and gifts. I improve their game, and occasionally their gamey odor. As a homeless marketing consultant, I am a trainer, a mentor, a coach. My fee is 20% of their take, just like an agent. Possibly 40%, if their English is shaky.

Curious about a typical day at my elite hobo consultancy? Read on.

Fortunately, in this economy, I never have problems finding new clients. Wandering into the streets of Boston, I immediately ran into Billy, a homeless 46-year old man who was bright, articulate, and alcoholic. I took him to a nearby Starbucks for strong black coffee and a strong recommendation to do business together.

I pulled out my 19-inch Powerbook G4, touching open its titanium case. "Billy, I am going to help you unlockyour homeless earning potential,"I told him, firing up Powerpoint 2007. "Now, how much would you say you currently make each day by stemming?" 2

"I don't stem," he said. "I'm not that desperate yet."

"Then how do you get by?"

"I sell my food stamps," he said. "I know a guy who pays cash for them, 50 cents on the dollar. I have another friend who will sometimes buy them off me, dollar for dollar, when he has the money. He lets me crash at his place sometimes."

"Good friend," I said. "Don't urinate on his carpet."

Billy laughed and took a sip of Frappucino.

"No, I mean it. Don't piss on his carpet. You need the money."

"Okay."

"Now Billy: you can drastically boost your earning potential by learning how to stem. Do you want to give it a try?"

"I don't know." Billy was skeptical. "My wife divorced me, and I have two sons who are pretty successful. They work around here, and I don't want them to see me." The shame in his eyes ran deep.

"Come on," I said gently. "Don't be afraid. I'll show you how to do it."

"You're going to stem wearing that?" he said, pointing to my custom-tailored pinstripe suit and Giorgio Armani necktie.

"Watch me."

I spent the next half hour panhandling in my suit. Make no mistake: it is not easy money. The constant rejection of hundreds of passing faces was disheartening, but I pushed on. After fifteen minutes, I was approached by a Malaysian tourist who asked me for directions to the subway station.

"For that information, I will need twenty dollars," I told him.

"Certainly!" he said, smiling and placing a 20-dollar bill into my cup.

"Right you are. Just down the block on the left. You were already going in the right direction, and would have run into it anyway."

"Thank you!" he said, slightly confused.

Having successfully extorted twenty dollars out of an unsuspecting tourist, I asked Billy if he had change. I took out my 20% fee, then handed Billy the cup, which was filled with his $16 cut of the take. "We always use fresh Starbucks cups for stemming," I instructed. "Never crumpled or dirty. Starbucks conveys success, and Americans love successful people. Like you, Billy." I patted him on the back. "Now go get 'em, homeless guy."


I was either coaching him, or talking on the phone. I can't remember.

It's hard fucking work, panhandling. Hundreds of successful Americans, some with their pocketbooks out, walking right by. Next time you see a hobo, try to throw him some spare change. Billy was invisible to these people.

I considered fitting Billy with a hemmed jacket, but he was already clean and presentable: no rank, no stank, and only a cowboy's whiskey-breath. In his casual jeans and sweatshirt, Billy was Everyhomeless. I thought his best strategy was to stay his own bad self.

So I changed up Billy's signage instead, trying to draw a little more attention from the cruel, uncharitable residents of Boston.


Playing the sympathy card.

Billy received no donations with this sign, even though he really did need a hernia operation.


I thought this would get some sympathy votes, but forgot about the large recovering Jewish population.

No donations.


Irony always sells.

With this sign, it was only minutes before someone dropped a dollar into Billy's cup.

Yes, my friends, in less than half an hour, Billy had seen his fortunes reversed from $0.00 per hour to $2.00 per hour,3 which is an increase of two hundred percent! When extrapolated to a full work year4, this would total a net income of one million dollars.5

1. "Homelessness" (1997). Encyclopedia of Applied Ethics. London: Academic Press.
2. "Stemming" is street slang for "begging."
3. $2.00/hour rate assumes a $1.00 donation every half hour.
4. Homeless Marketing Consultants defines a "full work year" as constant stemming 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, at $2.00/hour rate.
5. Also, it would require a rich uncle that would provide you $982,480 of the $1,000,000.

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