Saturday, January 14, 2006

Beggaring Their Neighbors

In fashionable Ashland Oregon, it's a lifestyle:

A couple with three children who make a living as panhandlers say they are surprised by public attention to their lifestyle.

Jason Pancoast and Elizabeth Johnson, who describe themselves as "affluent beggars," say they are able to maintain a well-fed and well-dressed family by living off the streets.

"What has happened is that we're going along with a lifestyle that you couldn't imagine we should have," Pancoast said.

A story in the Sunday edition of the Mail Tribune newspaper in Medford noted the couple sometimes make up to $300 a day and once made $800.

But the report also triggered an outcry from residents. People have yelled at Pancoast and threatened him since the story was published, he said.

Angry e-mails and letters to the Mail Tribune have described the couple as tax evaders, bad role models for their children, "common thieves" and abusers of a food-stamp program designed to help people temporarily down on their luck. Pancoast and Johnson said they receive $500 a month in food stamps.

Local radio talk shows have spent airtime taking calls about Pancoast, 34, and Johnson, 30. The couple appeared this week on a Portland radio show, and national media also have expressed interest in interviewing them.

The couple say they use their money to get a safe place for their children to sleep, a warm meal and good clothes.

"We're challenging the stereotype of being a beggar," Johnson said.

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