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Panhandling as a Social Experiment

Chris CoonMeghan Keneally Chris Coon.

Chris Coon takes a very methodical and well-accounted approach to panhandling, not because he is particularly fond of organization, but because he thinks of his work on the sociological level.

Mr. Coon, 29, is conducting a “social experiment” by trying to see how long it will take him to ask one million people for a donation to help get him out of homelessness.

In order to preserve the integrity of the project, he has a number of rules that he follows: he doesn’t start making the rounds until about 1 p.m. because he doesn’t like to talk to people while they’re eating (“its not respectful,” he said). He tries to remember the faces of the people he talks to because he doesn’t want to count them twice. He prefers to talk to couples, because it counts as two people. And more than anything, he hates it when people cut him off mid-spiel because then it doesn’t count at all.

To Mr. Coon, it all comes down to the numbers, and since starting in the beginning of May, the big number is the 3,462 people he has asked.

“I think it’s intuitive and creative and I made it into a job instead of just going up and saying ‘Hey, look, can I have a dollar?’” he said. “I probably have to speak to five or six million people to be able to actually ask one million of them.”

When he approaches people in Union Square, which has been his base of operations and his home on and off for the past few years, Mr. Coon explains the concept of his “experiment” and then records their gender and ethnicity, in an attempt to make the project as professional and accurate as possible.

“I want this to feel as much as an experiment as it can because for me it is an experiment to see how quickly I get out of being homeless,” Mr. Coon said.
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