DETROIT – Volunteers in Detroit and across the nation spent the night counting the homeless, and one of those men who lives in the cold is dealing with it in a, shall we say, unusual way.
He calls himself “Honest Abe” and he panhandles not just for pocket change, but also for the donor’s credit and debit cards. He accepts cards with a reader attached to his cell phone.
His real name is Abe Hagenston and he’s been homeless in Detroit for seven years or so. The 8 Mile overpass on I-75 is home.
Looking at that bleak, gray freeway facade with the wind whipping through, one could imagine he’s happy about the relatively mild winter metro Detroit has experienced so far this year.
Not so fast.
“It’s not really that easy, what we’re lacking is snow,” Abe told WWJ’s Mike Campbell. “Of course, there’s no snow removal. I used to look forward to that, doing some shoveling.”
Without the extra cash, he hasn’t made enough money this winter to buy new eyeglasses, he said, and he could use a new prescription.
But as a bonus, with the extra time Abe says he and a group of fellow homeless have organized themselves “like a union” to panhandle in shifts. He also used the extra time to figure out a way to make donations more efficient. Don’t have any change in your pocket? No problem.
“I take VISA, MasterCard, American Express,” Abe told Campbell. “I’m the only homeless guy in America who can take a credit card. It’s all done safely and securely through square.com.”
Square readers attach to credit cards and basically turn a smartphone into a card reader. They cost about $10 and square providers charge vendors a fee per transaction. In the case of itunes, the charge is 2.75 percent per transaction.
It’s unknown how many homeless occupy Detroit — or how many people have trusted Abe with their credit card information — but last year’s count of people who live on the streets of Detroit included a rough estimate of 2,700.
This year’s count isn’t ready yet, but people like Stacy Brackins, a case manager with mental health agency Detroit Central City spent the night cruising around town with gloves, hats, sleeping bags to count homeless men and women and try to encourage them to seek shelter.
Hundreds of volunteers were involved in the count. According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, the number of homeless in Michigan had declined 6 percent in the most recent report. There were an estimated 578,424 people experiencing homelessness across the country in 2014.
How many homeless were ready to accept offers of warmth and shelter in Detroit Wednesday night? Some were, others were not.
“Some, they just don’t want to come inside — they want their freedom,” Brackins said.