ANCHORAGE -

Walter Egelak, a self-described "chronic alcoholic," has "worked" every intersection in town.

For seven years, he said he has used the same sign: "Why lie? I like beer." On the other side of the sign is written "Enjoy the sunny day."

Egelak said people respond positively to his honesty. He said he's gotten money, food and clothes from drivers at Anchorage intersections.

"I seen so many homeless people saying they're homeless and hungry and I know they got food stamps and money," Egelak said. "Right after, they go right to the liquor store. So this is why I came up with my sign. Why lie? I like beer."

It's not illegal for Egelak to hold his sign on the sidewalk, police said, but when he steps off of it and into the road, he could find himself on the other side of the law.

"What we're focused on here at the department is a very specific action of what is deemed to be illegal panhandling," said Jennifer Castro, Anchorage Police Department's communications director. "That's when we see an exchange happening, where a person steps out into a public roadway and receives money or gratuity from a driver."

The driver who gives money or food is also breaking city laws.

As of June, the fine is $300.

Last year, police issued 22 panhandling citations. This year, so far, they have only handed out one.

Typically, they don't cite drivers; officers try to educate them about panhandling laws, Castro said.

"It's difficult to enforce this specific law," she said. "Any time an officer shows up, everyone starts to behave and stops doing whatever illegal thing it is they're doing."

If an officer does catch a panhandler, another officer needs to be on hand to track down the offending driver.

Police plan their enforcement with undercover vehicles, Castro said.

"We usually try to do that right before snowfall because that's when we really know it's going to be dangerous," she said. "When the ice hits the streets and people are trying to slow down to give money, that's when it's really going to create an unsafe situation."

Egelak said he will continue to "work" the streets. He said he collects about $30 a day from drivers.

Egelak said he ended up on the streets more than seven years ago.

About a year ago, he said his wife left him after an argument for another man. Heartbroken, he drank so much, Egelak said, he ended up in sleep-off centers more than four times.

"I still love her," he said. "If you love a woman, man, what are you going to do?"

Egelak makes no excuses about being a "chronic alcoholic."


A blue vehicle pulled up to the red light at 36th and C where Egelak was standing.

"So you want money for beer?" the passenger asked Egelak.

"Yeah," Egelak said.

"Not to better your situation?" asked the man in the car.

"It happens," Egelak said. "Life is life."

The light turned green and the men drove away.

"Life is good," Egelak said. "I've had a hard life but life is good."