AKRON, Ohio (AP) — Skribblez the panhandling clown buried his nickels and dimes in Mason jars. When he saved enough to buy a house, he dug them up.
Now, they call him the Homeless Homeowner. But his real name is Ryan Scanlon, a father and college student with a troubled childhood, debilitating seizures, no respect for authority and self-described mental issues.
Speaking with a high-pitched voice from the red ball pinching his nose, Scanlon said homeless people need to get a job or do something more than "sitting around at these day centers. They’re not even panhandling. They refuse to do that."
Scanlon, 33, unabashedly advocates for begging on the streets, where he pulls in anywhere from $7 to $100 a day. If done correctly, he said, it’s better than minimum wage and safer than crime and prostitution — "things that, to me, are a little bit lazier than panhandling."
"There’s also so much stigma and shame put on it that people who might benefit from it, that they won’t even try," said Scanlon.
In the seven years since he became a professional panhandler, he’s been cussed at, spit on, scrutinized and told he’s worthless. He’s accepted rides from strangers offering work — a ploy that’s sometimes a front for sexual exploitation, he said.
With mutton chops, a goatee and face paint, the clown is a panhandling gimmick that lets him laugh when he has more than a few reasons to cry.
Scanlon was born in Anderson, Indiana, to parents unfit to take care of him.
His grandparents raised him until his parents regained custody of him when he turned 8. But he never stayed with his parents.
"I was out of there. I checked in, because they only ever needed to know that I was alive," Scanlon said.
In school, he was constantly in trouble and underperforming, but rarely absent.
"I wanted to not be home so bad," he said. "I had to have places to go.
"Ever since I was 8 years old, I was on the street living somewhere else. ." he said. "I could either be at home and let my stepdad, you know, he was psychologically and physically abusive. But I seen a lot of kids get beat worse than me."
He didn’t think things would get worse. "My childhood was wild. It was ragtag. But it definitely wasn’t as hard as what was coming."
General Motors had to stagger work schedules to keep traffic from becoming unbearable in Anderson. In 1978, the company employed 22,000 in a town of 70,000. Today, GM and 17 percent of the population, including Scanlon, are gone.
Long story short, he moved east for opportunity, landing in Akron where he met his future ex-girlfriend. They had two sons during the Great Recession.
Personal "bad decisions" — fanned by a lack of opportunity and stable upbringing — put Scanlon on the street. "For most of my life, I was a career criminal. I relied on selling drugs and things like that. When I was young, we all thought we were gangsters.
"Eventually the drugs got me too; it just took me longer than other people. It was a downward spiral. And when I got up, there was no one around me."
He took up panhandling in 2010. Shortly after, he remember one of his sons asking, "Are you the bad guy, daddy?"
Scanlon can be considered a founding member of what is now the Second Chance Village, Akron’s only tent city sanctioned by its property owner.
The day center began as a thrift store run by the homeless — the brainchild of Scanlon.
In March of last year, the panhandler gave $1,000 to the owner of a tax-delinquent, condemned property. The property owner then paid the back taxes and handed Scanlon the deed.
The home was registered for demolition, missing pipes and unfit for habitation. Scanlon spent $7,000 in necessary repairs, which he performed to stretch each panhandled penny.
Through the effort, he launched an online campaign to raise funds. Sage Lewis, who connected with the homeless while running for mayor of Akron in 2015, was "about the only person who responded," Scanlon said.
Lewis, an auctioneer, offered Scanlon help. In return, Scanlon helped Lewis get rid of items he couldn’t sell, which at that time were cluttering the basement of a commercial property he owned at 15 Broad St.
Scanlon opened the Second Chance Thrift Store and encouraged Paul Hays, who now runs the entire work-training, donation-collection and outreach center for the homeless, to take over.
Now a homeowner, Scanlon didn’t feel comfortable being the face of an operation run by and created for the homeless. So he stepped away.
These days, he takes out student loans and rides the bus to Canton, where he studies music engineering at Stark State. With a roof over his head, he said he’ll hand over the deed to his house to his sons when they come of age.
Then, entering his mid-40s, he said he’ll step back out into the wild, panhandling for a second home.
"Ever since I was 8 years old, I was on the street living somewhere else. ... I could either be at home and let my stepdad, you know, he was psychologically and physically abusive. But I seen a lot of kids get beat worse than me."
Information from: The Akron Beacon Journal, www.ohio.com