Is it OK to use a rooster to goose donations?
That’s worked well for Jose, a homeless man who showcased his pet rooster Garfield as he solicited lunchtime crowds recently on Chicago’s State Street.
“I do better on days when I have Garfield than when I don’t,” said Jose, who declined to give his last name.
Curiosity seekers flocked to the bird, stroking his feathers and posing for photos. Kids were especially intrigued, and it was the rare parent who didn’t throw a fistful of change into the owner’s plastic cup.
Jose is one of many panhandlers downtown who find creative ways to spark generosity. Musicians, dancers and silver-painted mimes stand out from the competition.
“There is nothing in the law that limits livestock and panhandling,” said Mark Weinberg, a civil rights attorney who represented the homeless in a 2012 lawsuit against the city and police.
But Weinberg noted that Las Vegas recently banned the homeless from having dogs while panhandling and said he wouldn’t be surprised if other cities followed. Chicago’s ordinance on aggressive panhandling prohibits soliciting money in a certain manner and location — within 10 feet of an ATM or a sidewalk cafe, for instance — but there is no ban on animals.
“Unless you are a part of a street performance — you know, like a circus act,” Weinberg said. “Then you’d need a license.”
The city does a count of homelessness in January, but no count during the summer. Despite perceptions, the number of street people does not increase in the summer, said Ed Shurna, executive director of the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless.
“We just see them more because they have more options than sleeping in a shelter — such as sleeping in the park and abandoned buildings. And it’s easier to ride the ‘L’ (the city’s elevated train system) at night in warm weather,” Shurna said.
“The vast majority of homeless people do not panhandle,” he said. “They try to remain unseen for their own safety.”
Still, Jose has no plans to rein in Garfield.
“Really,” he said. “If you want to do well out here, you got to have a gimmick.”