Questionable Panhandling?

Photo by PoPville flickr user ekelly80

On Friday [Ed. Note: sorry for the delay, I was out of town] I got a few inquiries about questionable Panhandling in Dupont Circle.

“Dear PoP,

A couple of people I know have noticed a number of 20-40 something women in Dupont Circle begging for change today (Friday). Its odd because they don’t necessarily look like the homeless people that are traditionally in Dupont Circle. Have you, or your readers, heard anything about this?”

Another reader asks about a different situation:

“Dear PoP,

I was curious if by chance you or anyone who frequents this blog has noticed the young boy and his father outside the Woodley Park metro. The boy has been sitting on a bucket and playing the drums the past few weeks while pandering for money, as his father hovers in the general vicinity and hangs out. Do you know what the deal is with this kid? At first I felt bad for him, but i’m starting to think it’s some type of money making scheme and the father may be exploiting his son’s talent and youth, as they literally sit there for hours at a time. Thoughts?”

I’m not familiar with this specific case but I have friends who used to do this when they were young and they absolutely loved it (one is now a classical guitarist) so I don’t necessarily think this is an exploitation of talent.

57 Comment

  • There is a guy on the Yellow / Green lines in the evening rush hour that is using the line “I just got out of DC Jail, can you help me with some money to get out of the metro”

    On a side note, the Taxi Cab Surcharge has been extended into November, Gray is paying for those votes. Grease the palms.

  • How is the second situation any different than any other parent peddling their child’s “talents,” be they acting/musical/athletic. Is it because they’re panhandling in DC, rather than at the Today Show?

  • I was waiting for a friend outside the Baja Fresh in Dupont a few weeks back and observed a little boy, maybe 8-10 years old, going up to passers-by with one of those cards that describes some sort of admirable school-related program. I would estimate that at least 50% of the people he approached gave him money, often noticeably more than 1 bill and a few that I could see were larger denominations than $1. There was a woman in her 20s or 30s sitting off to the side who he returned to several times to hand off money – her wad of cash was at least 2″ thick. Crazy. They must have been clearing several hundred bucks an hour. Good work if you can get it I guess.

    • I’ve noticed a similar deal around Dupont where a group of 2-3 kids (some really young looking – I’d guess 5 to 6?!?) carry around large plastic boxes of cookies. They claim to be selling them for “school” or “football” and inevedibly there’s an adult male following behind them as they work their way down the street.

      Is this a legit way of fundraising for after school activities in DC? I assume athletic teams need to buy their own uniforms, etc., but when I was a kid we always worked door-to-door in neighborhoods to fundraise, not by stopping random folks in the street.

      • saf

        NO, not legit, generally.

        • Thanks, I figured as much and have always tried to walk away without engaging with them (the kids or the adult).

          Frankly the situation strikes me as some sort of coerced labor, but I have no idea if there’s anything to do about it (call the police? call the child welfare agency?, etc?).

      • This has been going on all over the DC area as long as I can remember (at least 15 years). Some of the kids can be very aggressive and I generally regard them as a nuisance. My gut tells me that it’s not legit, though I have no proof. Also, the cookies they sell are terrible.

        If you really feel like supporting these types of causes you are better off giving to the Boys and Girls Club, United Way or even directly to the churches/other organizations that sponsor the teams.

        • Generally speaking it’s a scam. Some person will hire the kids to solicit donations and pay them a small, hourly salary and pocket the rest.

      • One kid did tell me the name of the organization; i forget it now. I looked it up online and saw that they were found guilty in the not so distant past of 9 counts of racketeering and had lots of trouble over paying kids nearly nothing to work a lot while paying them nearly nothing.

      • I do understand the suspicion, but I think it’s also important to keep in mind that if these kids really are 5-6 years old (or even if they’re 5 years older than that), then it’s great that there is an adult male following behind them. Kids that young shouldn’t be wandering DC alone and unsupervised, especially carrying a wad of cash. Perhaps it is a scam, but perhaps it’s alternatively just a case of kids wanting to feel like they’re working to raise money on their own and the adult is kept at bay so that the kids feel can like they’re contributing independently.

        • true. and the sun may not rise tomorrow. many things are possible in this great grand world.

          • You’re right, but there’s no reason to assume the sun won’t rise tomorrow absent some kind of evidence, just as there’s no reason to assume this is a scam absent evidence stronger than “supervised children are asking for money” or “my gut tells me it must be.” It very well might be a scam, but it seems like a lot of jumping to conclusions without much to go on, for the most part.

          • LK you are either trolling or incredibly naive.

          • Not trolling, and I’m sure there’s a decent chance that a lot of these operations are scams. I generally don’t donate when I’m approached either. All I’m saying is that there doesn’t seem to be a preponderance of evidence that these actually are scams, beyond people just intuiting that they are and acting like that’s enough to issue a decree. My initial response was in regards to the proposition that having young children followed by an adult male was automatically grounds for suspicion, as if it would be better for 6 year olds to be roaming the streets alone. That’s what I took exception to much more than the legitimacy of these campaigns.

          • I think the failure of your logic is that you assume the adults must be on the up-and-up if they are following the kids around.

            Frankly when I saw this whole show (and somehow I’ve encountered it about 3 times in the last two weeks), I got the creepy feeling that the adult was both exploiting the kids and looking out for the cops. It was a bit like watching a small-scale cattle drive: the kids would be moving at a pretty good clip since most people turned down the cookies and the adult would be following up behind, constantly looking behind them as if they were afraid of being followed.

            There’s no explicit evidence of this being a scam, but the fact that it’s a mobile operation makes me suspicious. If you’re selling cookies for kids, I’m sure any number of local businesses would allow legitimate fundraisers set up a table outside (this happens at supermarkets in the suburbs all the time). When the kids are hustling down the street, with no literature on their cause, and a shifty adult keeping an eye out for trouble, it seems completely illegitmate.

  • I noticed the punk panhandlers have come back to the DC. God I missed those guys.

  • Regarding the first situation, I noticed that many (all?) of the non-homeless panhandlers were Indian women. Is there a cultural piece to this?

  • a friend of mine in high school would panhandle when she was out of cigarette money. she went to private school. privileged panhandlers are not uncommon to this city.

  • On that note, there are some young girls (high school or middle school age) who play flute/violin duets near Eastern Market on the weekends and they are fantastic. It must take a lot of dedication to stand out there every weekend in 100 degree heat!

  • I also see a Hispanic-looking woman with a baby who sits outside of the foodcourt at 13th and F street asking for change. Having that poor baby outside for a long time in this heat isn’t cool.

    • No pun intended, I’m sure.

      • i guess it was better than saying, “there is something so hot about keeping the kid out in the heat so long”

        • There was a woman with a small baby (under a year) that was begging in Chinatown one of the many 90+ degree days recently. I had to call 911 three times, plus stop 3 different groups of cops (2 were going to California Tortilla to get food and couldn’t stop, the other was a Metro cop, on a bike, but who said his jurisdiction was only in the station [huh??]). Anyways, finally got a cop to do a welfare check – the child was lethargic and just didn’t look well…

  • Allison

    Any word on whether the guys on the green line who ask for money for their sports program in Southeast D.C. are legit? They are African-American teenagers, travel in large groups, carry around colored, spiral-bound pamphlets, and hop from metro car to metro car asking everyone for donations. Never given them (or anyone) money because I only donate online to recognized charities through secure websites. Just wondering if anyone else has encountered them and if they’re legit.

  • I saw two 20-30 year old South East Asian/Indian women panhandling opposite the Target in Columbia Heights (one outside the Starbucks) last Friday. Both were relatively well dressed, shoeless, and had dirt smudges on their faces and shirt, almost as if they were in costume.

  • There is something too this. There was a large group of young South East Asian/Indian youth who we saw walking out of Meridian Hill park last Friday morning. They had nice clothes, but were smeared with dirt. Age seemed around 20. This morning in the park, I was approached by a youth (dirt free) who was panhandling.

    Wonder what’s going on?

    • Maybe it’s some sort of spiritual tradition? I can’t think of any Hindu or Sikh holidays taking place right now but Ramadan just started.

    • Yes, I noticed several women in nice clothes in Dupont with dirt just smeared, at first I thought it was some kind of costume, but they were panhandling – what’s going on? Are these women being forced to do this? Are they being exploited? Who can we report this to?

  • PoP had a thread not long ago about kids asking for donations to “school”-related causes:

  • the other day in columbia heights, a young girl came to my door asking for donations with boxes of chocolates. she gave a rehearsed speech and wouldnt make eye contact. i kindly said no. five minutes later she rang the doorbell and asked to use my bathroom. again, i told her no, but i felt bad about it. i have small children in the house and no bathroom on the main floor. my gut just told me to say no. i watched her leave and she just lingered around the block for another 10 minutes.

  • There are a couple of women who have been frequenting Connecticut Avenue just outside of Dupont Circle. They seem to be recent imports—I don’t recognize them from the usual Dupont cast of characters.

    If you walk a long stretch, you’ll see them separately working different sides of the block. They act like they don’t know each other, but they look related, they’re dressed similarly, and they have the same schtick (trying to hand you a sign with their list of troubles).

    It’s pretty obviously a scam, depending on your definition—I mean, I’m sure they don’t use your donations to pay their butler. Give if it makes you feel better, but know that it’s bee ess.

  • This reminds me of the group of young boys who play drums (using upside down buckets) outside of the CH metro. They have a pretty large group of 10-15 kids that do it together and they are actually good. The only problem is that they leave a TON of litter behind. OH, and the last time as I was walking by the words they were chanting to their beat were “Me so horny, Me Me so horny” (not one of them older than age 10!) It’s sad, but I had to smile at that.

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