Brian Adams, 42, stands on the corner of State Street and Park Avenue. Adams, who lives with his fiancee and their three children on Munjoy Hill, lost his job as mason. "I went and filled out all the applications that I could everywhere [for work] and it's just to the point now where everything is off the bus line, so I have to supplement my searching for a job with actually bringing in some money, so this is the only way that I could do it without feeling like I'm hurting anybody or violating anybody's space. I choose the non-aggressive approach. I like to stand here, just asking for Christian help. No where on my sign does it say give me money, it just says 'need help' and it's up to that individual person on whether they want to stop and give me any money or not. So as far as that goes I believe I'm covered under my civil rights because I'm not aggressively hurting anybody, going at anybody in any way. I'm just standing here asking for help which is the free speech through the written word." Buy Photo
Bob Bukaty | BDN
Shay, 26, holds a sign asking for money to help feed her four kids on West Commercial Street in Portland. She has two sets of twins, 1-year-old boys and 5-year-old girls. "I pay my rent with the money that I make from my part-time job [at a Wendy's]. I come out here to make the rest for food. I hate being out here," she said. "My daughter got sick [with bacterial meningitis], I lost one of my part-time jobs, and LePage cut me off. Boom, boom, boom. I don't get food stamps, but I get MaineCare for my children. I did not collect unemployment because I'm stronger than that. I am part of the 66 percent of women who have been cut off by LePage. For him, I say, 'You suck.' I work hard, and I have always worked hard. I'm only 26 years old. And that's not cool." Buy Photo
Melissa Ciaramitaro, 19, tries to keep warm while the father of her 7-month-old son takes his turn at holding a sign asking for help on Forest Avenue in Portland on Wednesday. "I started doing this probably 2 or 3 months ago. I was scared at first, I didn't know what people were going to think. I just went out there and tried it and it's worked out pretty good so I started doing it every other day," she said. "I like it up here, besides the coldness," said Ciaramitaro, who was raised by her grandmother in Florida. "I had a guy came up and he gave me $22 and he asked me if I needed anything else. In the winter some people bring boots, gloves, gift cards to Subway. So it's actually pretty good." Buy Photo
Kim Lang, 46, holds a sign on State Street in Portland. "This is my first time. I have someone watching my kids [ages 6, 8 and 12] right now. My apartment caught on fire. Had carbon monoxide poisoning. Thank God my kids weren't there. I've been trying to get my own place but it's hard with certain limitations on income," she said. "[The motorists] are being very generous, I'm surprised, actually. It's greatly appreciated."
Scott Shepard, 24, asks for help buying diapers at the intersection of Park Avenue and St. John Street in Portland. Shepard shares an apartment with his fiancee and their two children, a daughter, 2, and son, 3. "This is my first time trying it [holding a sign]. I see everybody else down here doing it. I got two kids. I don't believe in collecting welfare, I'd rather work for my money. Not really having any [luck finding] work — so I figured I'd give it a shot and see how it goes," he said. "I've been out here for like two hours, I got like three bucks. Not too bad, I can't complain, you know." Buy Photo
Ken, with his American boxer, Duke, asks for help on a median on Park Avenue in Portland. Ken and Duke spend their nights camping with two homeless friends in Portland. "He's a good dog. I hate to bring him on the corner but sometimes you've got to do what you've got to do, you know, to provide. I'm not trying to use Duke [to get handouts] but if I didn't have Duke I'd still be on the corner," he said. Buy Photo
Liam O'Reilly, 30, sits with his dog, Tiberius, while asking for help on Marginal Way in Portland on Monday evening. O'Reilly and his dog hop freight trains to travel around the country. His previous dog was killed by the police in New Orleans. "They're a really violent police force. I was spare-changing. They came up and started giving me [a hard time], started beating me up. My dog didn't really stand for that so she bit one of them. They shot her five times. I punched about about three cops, which is not very smart — punching cops with guns — but the judge threw it out because they used excessive force," he said.
Robert Macie, who sleeps at the Oxford Street shelter, holds a sign on a median on Forest Avenue in Portland. "Some people don't understand what a sternman is so I've had to put lobsterman [on my sign]. Now they're catching on," he said. "A good place to stand is at Exit 8 where people are coming off after paying the toll. Just don't cross the street. They'll arrest you in Westbrook." Buy Photo
PORTLAND, Maine — Asking for help is never easy, but for Brian Adams, it beats the alternative.
“You know when people have tough times people will go out and take things that don’t belong to them,” said Adams, 42, an unemployed mason who lives on Munjoy Hill with his fiancee and three of his five children. So rather than break the law, he exercises his right to free speech and asks for help by occasionally holding a sign on the corner of Park Avenue and State Street.
“After I lost my job I went and filled out all the applications that I could everywhere [for work] and it just got to the point where I had to supplement my searching for a job with actually bringing in some money, so this is the only way that I could do it without feeling like I’m hurting anybody or violating anybody’s space,” he said.
He’s not alone. The number of people holding signs in Maine’s largest city seems to grow every day.
“I don’t look at this as panhandling, I look at this as asking for help. I choose the nonaggressive approach. I like to stand here, just asking for Christian help. Nowhere on my sign does it say ‘give me money,’ it just says ‘need help’ and it’s up to that individual person on whether they want to stop and give me any money or not,” said Adams.
“You have to be able to walk up to that car and look that person in the eye and say, ‘Yes, it’s true [I do have kids]. Thank you very much, my family appreciates it.’”