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Sign of the times

"Flying signs" is street lingo for panhandling with a soggy underside of a cardboard box, upon which is scrawled a message that can be creative, poignant, provocative, heart-rending, inspirational, or funny enough to part you from your money. The signs are a sales pitch, a street-corner PowerPoint presentation, a cry for help.

It’s a way for the homeless to make their pleas to passersby quickly, silently, and without defying laws against aggressive panhandling.

Seemingly every major intersection in cities and towns across the country now feature at least one, if not four—or more—ostensibly down-on-their-luck folks flying a sign, counting on the kindness of strangers.

"The reason people do it is because it gets results," says Marjorie Esman, director of the Louisiana chapter of the ACLU, which has advocated—not only here, but across the country—for the rights of sign-flyers. "You can choose to give them money or choose not to give them money. But if it didn't get results, people wouldn't do it."

Nobody is getting rich flying a sign. According to Esman, the average daily take for a sign flyer is only $10 to $30.