Seen, but not heard

A story of panhandlers in Baltimore

BALTIMORE - You can't miss them.
    
They are the silent, downtrodden specters who have found neither the milk, nor the honey in this land of opportunity, and now rely upon the charity of passing motorists to get by.
    
Jonathan Heffernan earned a living since coming to Baltimore in 1986, but he lost his job and subsequently his apartment last year.

"You have people that say, 'Look, you're out here for a handout.  I work every single day and I've got more health issues than you,' and it's like people don't really know you and can't say what you can and can't do, and very few people are going to get to know you in 30 seconds obviously," said Heffernan.
    
That's why we sought out some of those passing faces to give them a voice, and the single most important message they wanted to share doesn't go to who they are, but rather, what they aren't.

"I was never a drug addict and not a drunk, just disabled," said a man who simply goes by ‘Andrew’.
    
For Ed Foltz, who most people may recognize as the chain-smoking panhandler at Northern Parkway and Reisterstown Road, this hard life hasn't totally erased a softer side of the man he's all too happy to share.

"Just a so-called happy going guy... Catholic," said Foltz.
    
For Foltz, the helping hand he expected from the government never came, and he says he has no choice now, but to look for a handout.

"They refused to give me what they planned to give me---$300 in food stamps?  They only give me 60, and I wouldn't accept that and that's why I didn't have enough for rent and stuff like that.  I don't have enough for food," said Foltz.
    
While the average donation is a dollar or less, the panhandlers we spoke with say motorists are most gracious from Thanksgiving to Christmas offering large bills on occasion and even picking up the tab for a hotel room on the coldest nights.
    
Perhaps seeing their own families for the holidays reminds them of those who cannot.

"I'm pretty much estranged from my family,” said Heffernan, “Most of my family is very high-powered, educated.  I got a dad who's a retired judge.  Me and him, we're estranged.  He wanted me to go to college... law school and everything, and I didn't go.  It wasn't my thing.  So pretty much estranged from most of my family.  So it's my friends and God pretty much you know?"
    
Friends, God and an errant bill or extra change from a total stranger.
    
It's a tough life where every passing car may pass instantaneous judgement on those in need, but it's a two-way street.
    
In his relatively short time panhandling, Jonathan Heffernan says he has seen passersby totally ignore screams for help from assault and robbery victims, as well as the indifference he witnessed after a crash last summer at his favorite intersection in Northeast Baltimore. 

"The SUV went flying up in the air.  So I went there before the fire department and the police got there and asked the woman, 'Hey, are you okay?' you know.  I'm calling 911 type of thing and her windshield cracked and I'm trying to keep her calm and stuff.  I saw her car flip up.  It's really touching,” said Heffernan, “How many people passed by out there pretending like it didn't really happen, and that's how cold people can be.  They're so busy in their own personal lives, they can't even see a car flipping up.  I found it very upsetting."
    
That's right.  Even pity for the privileged from those who are seen, but rarely heard.

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