Warren Shane Speegle, who was jailed in Boise last week, says he has a message for the nation about the people who beg for money on street corners every day.
If you want them to leave, you need to stop giving them money, he said. They would rather get something for nothing than do something to get something. I speak from personal experience.
Speegle, 46, might be the most famous panhandler in the world, thanks to a July story on an Oklahoma City TV website. Speegle told a police officer that he made $60,000 last year simply by asking strangers for money. The Huffington Post website picked up the story, which was based on a police document anddidnt quote Speegle directly. Hundreds of websites across the world now carry versions of the article, many with comments from readers doubting Speegles claim.
But Speegle said hes done the math. If he averages $164.50 a day, that adds up to $60,000 in one year. And thats a conservative estimate Speegle said he often rakes in much more in a day.
I live in hotels, I eat in restaurants and I like to wear nice clothes, Speegle said. This is a lot easier than stealing, and I go to jail a lot less, and when I do its for less time.
Speegle boasted of his laziness as a worker and his success as a beggar in a phone call to the Idaho Statesman from Twin Falls, where he traveled via bus after staying a night in the Ada County Jail on a public urination charge from April.
He has a cellphone and uses a photo ID from Arkansas, the only state he said would allow him to get one without proof of residency.
His story comes as cities across the country grapple with how to handle sign-touting beggars blamed for disrupting traffic and annoying pedestrians and drivers.
Boise launched the Have a Heart, Share Smart campaign in 2010 to encourage residents not to give money to panhandlers. It suggests that people give to groups that help the poor and homeless instead.
City leaders still are considering an anti-panhandling ordinance, said Adam Park, spokesman for the city of Boise.
We have not made a final decision on when that would happen and what that would be, but thats something the mayor is actively considering, Park said.
Speegles story also underscores what Park said was the reasoning behind the 2010 campaign.
Unfortunately, there are unscrupulous people out there who will say things that arent true to elicit a sympathetic reaction from the public, Park said.
Speegle said he hasnt done drugs or consumed alcohol in more than a year, but used to spend much of his money doing so. Now hes content traveling, sleeping and eating.
I like nice things and Im just lazy, like most homeless people, Speegle said.
Bill Roscoe, executive director of the Boise Rescue Mission, said Speegle doesnt represent the homeless people he sees at the shelter. Roscoe estimates that just 15 to 20 percent are truly not interested in working, and most of them suffer from untreated mental illness.
Right now we have people in our shelters who would work tomorrow if they could get a job, Roscoe said. Their whole focus is on getting out of the shelter.
Speegle said he was born in Alabama, the son of an abusive and alcoholic mother. He said he didnt finish high school and has not had contact with his family in years.
He was working at a restaurant in Phoenix and living in an apartment when he decided to quit his job and start begging around town. Soon he was traveling to California, Oregon and Washington, panhandling along the way.
He says he doesnt hitchhike and prefers the bus or train. He avoids bigger cities too much competition and says hes been traveling the same route for years.
The excitement quickly wore off, he said.
Now its just monotonous like everything else, he said.
Speegle said he comes through Boise about once a year and stays two or three days, because youve really only got two or three places to panhandle, he said. He prefers spots near freeway and Connector ramps.
Speegle readily admits that hes lying to people and taking advantage of their kindness when he accepts their money. But he said its a victimless crime, because the people who give him money feel good about doing so.
I really hate that people are going to read this and feel bad about giving me money like I was taking advantage of them, he said. I was, but I dont want them to feel bad because of that.
Meghann M. Cuniff: 377-6418