"Get a job!" This epithet gets hurled around a lot downtown, often from harried pedestrians irritated by the panhandlers lining the sidewalks. Well, panhandling is a job, albeit one without a boss or time card. Pika has been a panhandler for eight or nine years, since the age of 13. "I've had a good experience being on the streets," she says. "It gives you a good quality."

She claims to make around $10 per day panhandling on average, and as much as $40 if it's payday. "I use it for food. I sometimes take my goddaughter out when I have the money." At this point she's more comfortable sleeping outside. "If I stay in a house I've gotta have the windows wide open, so I can hear traffic."

Obviously there are many downsides and hazards to panhandling, made more difficult by the fact Pika has Hepatitis C, which she says limits her access to shelters. Not to mention frequent confrontations with the police. "That's why I change the color of my hair every month," Pika claims.

Despite these hurdles, she says, "I basically love living out here. It's like camping to me." MARJORIE SKINNER