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Squeegeeing: The story from the streets

Posted: 5:54 PM, Dec 30, 2019
Updated: 2019-12-30 17:55:48-05
Do everything you can to make it around the system, over the system, or out of the system. – Tupac Shakur

Like most major U.S. cities, its thoroughfares are crowded with commuters on a mission.

Baltimore is no different.

Their destinations vary based on circumstances ranging from employment to shopping and more. Whatever their reason is to travel around town, drivers will eventually cross a busy intersection.

At few of these intersections, young men can be seen either walking along the broken white lines in the middle of the street or stand on sidewalk and median strips waiting for the red lights to stop traffic.

In one hand they carry plastic spray bottles, and in the other they carry a tool with a rubber blade.

Many drivers shake their heads and wave their hands in protest before they approach the vehicle. 

Some ignore the drivers demand, spray the window with a glass cleaning solution and wipe it off with a squeegee.

“I gotchu.” Some will say when they’re denied the opportunity. 

Others will ask to prevent confrontation. “Hey, how you doing? Wanna help support the hustle today?”

Baltimore media outlets have labeled them 'Squeegee Boys'.

They can be spotted at the end of the North Avenue and Mt. Royal Terrace exit ramp of I-83, under a tree at the intersection of E. Lombard and President Streets, sometimes North Hilton Street and Gwynns Falls Parkway.

One group, that huddles around a Rite Aid sign at North Howard Street and Martin Luther King Boulevard, call themselves brothers. They consider their corner a business.

The 'Squeegee Boys' have made headlines, mostly from bad experiences from drivers. 

The young hustlers say they saw the interviews conducted by local news as outrageous.

“It’s not even like that,” said one of the boys. 

squeegee boys

Squeegeeing is getting me by, honestly

"It is a form of oppression to support and encourage them to work the corners instead of working towards finding legitimate work where you show up at a specific time everyday and file taxes on earned income."

- T.J. Smith, candidate for mayor.

“Doing this probably makes more money than a regular job,” said Antoine Williams.

For now, working to wipe windows for those passing by is a stepping stone to something greater.

Williams loves cars.

He plans to own a car dealership in the future. People driving by in nice cars, to Williams, are people who may have a lot of money. Those are the types of people he wants to be like, but better

“A lot of people said they see me as an entrepreneur,” said Williams.

The 19-year-old from West Baltimore’s McCulloh Homes projects has been with his 'brothers' for three years, trying to make money squeegeeing windows at their North Howard Street and Martin Luther King Boulevard set-up.

In his world, people don’t grow up rich with money in their pockets. 

He understands people are born into wealthy families but to Williams it’s impossible.

For him to earn money, he wipes windows. The fast and safe money supports his needs. It’s fast money compared to having to having a job with wages, a supervisor and a bi-weekly paycheck.

It’s safe money because it isn’t an illegal hustle that he says get old, like selling drugs.

“It makes me happy when people give me money. A lot of people do care about us, so when some gives me money it like they got hope for me,” he said.

Williams says, when he wakes up every morning, he sets a goal to make at least $150 each day.

Like most businesses, as they like to call their daily window services, there’s good days and bad days.

The day he misses the most are during the warm season where they can easily make around $150 to $175. During the cold weather, a bad day will bring them around $70 to $80.

However, no matter his earnings for that day he gives half to his mother who he still lives with and his brother and baby sister. They now live in the area of Garrison Boulevard.

Although his mother doesn’t agree with idea of wiping windows to support himself, he continues to return to North Howard Street.

The idea of asking for handouts and being dependable isn’t an option. 

“I want to get it on my own…want to move myself in a better predicament, a better situation,” he said.

Squeegeeing windows is getting him by, taking care of his small needs such as food and clothes. It’s not his only option as he's currently searching for a job.

While he waits for employers to contact him with an offer, he stands with his “brothers” on their post to clean car windows.

squeegee boys

When someone makes me mad, it's a problem

We shouldn't be criminalizing their poverty. We shouldn't be criminalizing their lack of access to education or criminalizing the fact that they made some mistakes and they need a path forward."

- State Sen. Mary Washington, candidate for mayor.

Throughout the day, the group grows larger.

During morning hours, there's usually six boys. Around noon or later, others join.

In the back of the crowd is 19-year-old Clifton Wilson, who sometimes stands alone and wait quietly. A cool person is how he describes himself.

He's coming from work, a part time job with city's Recreation and Parks department he was able to obtain from his parole officer.

Back in 2017, Wilson was arrested and charged for an incident he chose not to discuss, while waiting on North Howard Street to squeegee windows.

He was locked up for seven months at the juvenile detention center, a place Baltimore natives call Baby Bookings.

After being released from jail, not only did find employment he returned to North Howard Street.

Wiping windows keeps him occupied.

Wilson wants mutual respect when he's walking out into the street to earn money.

He prefers to ask if he can wipe a driver’s window. It's respectable and less confrontational.

There are days when Wilson is ready to explode. It has nothing to do with being denied the chance to clean a window, but when he feels disrespected.

People have exited their cars to confront the group because they disagree with the boy's services.

A few years ago, he went to a woman and asked if he could clean her window. That's when he heard the woman called him a derogatory name.

It wasn't until he approached the woman about her degrading comment, that he suddenly got angry. To make up for she said to Wilson, she offered him money and an apology.

Even when encountering negative behavior, he still returns to the dirty patch that holds the Rite Aid sign up. He looks forward to the good advice he receives that overshadows the shouts, racial slurs and other foul language.

Money isn't the only thing to gain while trying to make extra cash by cleaning windows. 

Food, water and even shoes were given to Wilson to compensate for the lack of money. He'll take it and be appreciative of the support.

squeegee boys

It helps support my family

These kids are surviving as best as they know how...ignorance is no excuse but survival is. A lot of these kids are surviving. I'm hoping that we can help them sooner than later. This cant be an election cycle problem.

- Carlmichael Stokey Cannady, candidate for mayor.

Nathaniel Silas has a major responsibility.

The 19-year-old father said he would be out on the street if he couldn’t provide.

Nate, as the group calls him, wouldn't have any money to support his daughter if he wasn’t wiping windows.

He once worked for Walmart while squeegeeing. However, at Walmart he didn’t make enough money. 

Nate could make more money from his squeegee services.

The chance to engage in the side-hustle was presented to him by a mutual friend he shares with the group he calls his “brothers.”

In the beginning, he didn’t want to do the job. The thought of how others would perceive him, if caught cleaning windows. 

“Really, wiping somebody’s window for a couple dollars?” he said.

The day he decided to pick up the basic tools, a spray bottle and the squeegee, a driver opened their car door window to pay him. 

Other’s opinions soon became obsolete.

“You not putting money in my pocket, so imma do what I got to do.”

Nate acknowledges the presence of his stepfather but it’s the absences of his biological father that encourages him to excel, even beyond squeegeeing.

 He said he wants to do everything for daughter that his father didn’t for him. 

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