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Special Report: The Business of Being Homeless

Those who do it call it flying signs.
LITTLE ROCK, AR -- When you see someone with a sign asking for money at a busy intersection, you may assume they're homeless, but that's not always the case.

Those who do it call it flying signs.

William Tollett, with the Union Rescue Mission, has another name for it.

"So for the professional panhandler it's hard to have respect for them because they're really manipulating the situation," Tollett said.

He says most of the time, people with signs aren't really in need of help at all and could be making as much money as you do, and it's tax free.

"A lot of them drive vehicles and park them away from where they're panhandling," Tollett said.

At 630 and University, one man's cardboard sign states he's homeless and hungry, but after asking him a few questions, we found out he's neither.

He told us he usually stays with his mother.

Asher and University is another popular place to fly signs. In fact at that intersection, some of the panhandlers work in shifts. During the day, we saw them taking turns holding signs.

The panhandlers we talk to say they work in one to one and a half hour shifts and make anywhere from around $40 to $80 per shift.

Donald Underwood told us he makes a minimum of $80 every time he panhandles.

But he also told us he is homeless living in a tent in the woods.

"When they hand me a $20 bill as soon as they walk away do you know what I do? I break down and I cry," Underwood said.

The reporter asked, "Why do you cry?"

"Because the generosity," Underwood responded.

With both physical and mental illnesses, Underwood says he uses most of his money for prescriptions.

Eric Dollar says he's homeless too and flies signs to make money for extra things like cigarettes or a hotel room.

The most he's made in one shift was $230.

"I'm not out there getting myself in trouble and stealing or I'm not bank robbing or anything else like that," Dollar said.

Dennis Beavers with SOAR Network says, in this city, there's really no need to beg for money.

He says plenty of places offer shelter and food.

Beavers told us he talked to one homeless man who said, "He came in through Miami and said I never seen anything like this place. He said I've been all over the country and since I've been here I've gained 15 pounds."

The homeless advocates we talked to say most of the homeless don't even fly signs.

So remember, if you give a handout, there's no guarantee the person you're helping is really even homeless.

Panhandling in the city of Little Rock is illegal and those caught doing it could receive a citation.

If you would like to help the homeless, advocates say the best thing to do is donate to a charity that supports those in need.

If you would like to follow Melissa Schroeder's reports on Facebook, you can click here and like her page.

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