A 42-year-old Detroit homeless man, Abe Hagenston better known as Honest Abe, is in the business of being homeless. You read that right, he has taken panhandling to the next level by developing a website for people to use to hire him and other homeless people to do odd jobs. He even bought a square so that he can accept credit cards from his cell phone. He has a business license and merchant’s account and all card swipes go through square.com and they do his merchant processing so he has no access to your credit card info.
I was confused because I thought homelessness was the result of some horrible thing that happened to someone, like getting AIDS, losing your house in a fire or having your child get hit by a car and here in your arms one minute and gone the next. I thought that these things could happen to anyone. That was the tragedy. Any of us could fall victim to this type of travesty at any time through no fault of our own just really shitty circumstances. That’s why I give when I can but when I heard words like square, website and business license, it felt more like a choice than a situation beyond one’s own control. It felt intentional but I didn’t know the whole story.
Apparently, honest Abe has been in the business of being homeless for nearly a decade and just got tired of hearing people say that they wish they could help but they just didn’t have any cash on them. It’s true; we are becoming a cashless society. I seldom have cash and usually, I give food because I can charge it. He got tired of just waiting for something to happen to turn his life around so he created a way to help himself and others.
“Being homeless is my business. Now my business is being homeless,” he said.
At first when I heard this story, I was a little leery. I mean, how the hell can a homeless man afford a phone, a data plan, have a website and think to use a square to get donations? I would never have thought of all of that and I work online in the space. Apparently, Honest Abe has a better business sense than most.
When I heard the blurb on the radio this morning, I firmly believed this guy was a scam artist who was lazy and just trying to find an easy way to make a buck instead of working (because there are people who do that.) There was an entire expose a few years back about suburbanites who made panhandling their jobs to the tune of $65,000 a year because they didn’t want to work. They enjoyed the hustle. That’s when I started giving food.
But then I researched his site, watched his video and read his story and I may have been wrong. I think this guy is just smart and trying to make the best out of a bad situation. He actually doesn’t want a hand out, he wants a hand up and he wants to pass it on.
It seems that my life has been a series of rebuilding. Along the way I have learned that hard work, determination, ethical and moral decision making, along with a positive attitude is the right combination to pull yourself out of a hole. However, just once I wish there was someone with a rope to assist. I have never had the benefit of being assisted. I have always found myself in the wrong demographic, ineligible for assistance other than food stamps, having to struggle when I could have been making progress. I have never even heard of a homeless program (let alone seen one) that actually presented itself as a viable pick you up, dust you off and send you running, all the bells and whistles included full package program.
Being homeless gives a person a lot of time to reflect on what went wrong, and what a person could do differently if given the chance.
Hagenston’s cellphone was provided by the federal government’s Lifeline Assistance program and is known as the “Obamaphone.” His website is a free WIX website that he set up and accesses via the public library.
He doesn’t get food stamps and he refuses to lie about his mental state or do anything illegal to get housing. He wants to earn his way but, due to circumstances beyond his control, he is without a home and any identification and this prohibits him from securing employment.
There are 4 options left to me. I could steal, deal drugs, prostitute, or fly a sign. The first 3 are out of the question. I am not slick enough to steal, I am not mean enough to deal drugs, and I am not pretty enough to prostitute. So, you see me at 8 and Woodward. I mean what else am I supposed to do? Just lay down and starve to death?
I think he seems rather bright and business savvy. He may just be a genius. He is not only trying to get himself and other homeless people honest work and pay, he is trying to develop an app to identify the truly needy homeless from those who just pretend to be panhandlers which I would personally love to have because I love to help others but I’d like to know that they are actually in need of food and care not just panhandling because they don’t want to be stuck in a cubicle all day.
If this guy is for real, he is everything we need in this country. We have so many starving, homeless people on our own streets that we need to feed and if they can work for what they earn and provide for themselves, maybe we can help not only feed them but allow them to feel/be productive in society. That is a genuine win win situation for all of us. I find his entrepreneurial sense refreshing. He’s not giving up on himself, he’s reinventing himself within his circumstances.
What do you think of Honest Abe and the business of being homeless?