“aggressive, bold, persistent panhandlers”


“Dear PoPville,

Yesterday at the entrance to the CVS drugstore (Farragut North Metro entrance) was a middle age lady at the door asking any and every one that entered for some help. Now, mind you she didn’t just ask for change or a dollar she asked for deodorant, soap and toothpaste. I told her I would try on my out. As I was inside in line about to be checked out with the items she requested and my own. I observed several people leaving CVS and handing over to her soap, deodorant and toothpaste! She was racking up. I quietly put her requested items back and purchased what I came in the store for and left. She was still standing at the door, still begging. What do you do with aggressive, bold panhandlers??

Another panhandler that really hounds you to death is this old age bearded African American guy that stands in front of the 7-eleven and Au Bon Pain restaurant on 19th Street N.W. asking for someone to get him something to eat. I’ve seen people hand out dollars and he’s still standing there asking for more. How would you handle this. I see him there every day.”

I would either give him/her a dollar or I would move on.

If they were persistent I’d handle it the same way I do with persistent political canvassers – I say “sorry not today” and keep walking. If you are actually threatened of course call the police. If you are only annoyed, just keep walking. If you feel compassionate, give a dollar or more. I assure you this person is not living the high life surrounded by luxurious deodorants and toothpaste and laughing about her day’s exploits.

I’m sorry for being blunt. Occasionally we do encounter truly aggressive and violent panhandlers out there but I just don’t think the situations you described above would make me feel threatened. I’d also encourage you to read the person first project to give a better insight into the homeless population.

62 Comment

  • Not to mention the very aggressive bearded man at Farragut North (who I actually just encountered again this afternoon), who yells profanities at you and is especially cruel in his language towards women. When I see him, I just ignore him and don’t engage, because he is unusually aggressive. Has anyone else encountered this particular person?

    • YES! Sometimes he calls me doll and asks if I’ll marry him and other times he calls me horrifying names and will keep screaming at me until I’m far gone. I saw him get arrested once by a female police office while verbally accosting a woman walking past blackfinn. He tells my Indian coworker that she “Isn’t a real American” it’s sad

    • Prince Of Petworth

      For the record I think profanities and worse being yelled is totally unacceptable. I would recommend contacting the DC Mental Health Response Team: http://www.popville.com/2012/10/props-to-dc-mental-health-mobile-response-team/

      • Thanks for the link! I do want to add that he does ask for money and when you don’t comply, that’s when the profanities and disparaging remarks towards women begin. He is so aggressive in his demanding tone, that it does not compel me to monetarily help him, but perhaps this Mental Health Response Team is the type of assistance that he needs.

        • This guy is also quite hostile/threatening to men. When I’ve said “sorry” to his requests for money he has hurled the most vitriolic bile I’ve heard come out of a person’s mouth. I once seriously considered calling the cops since he threatened to assault me, but figured it would be a waste of my time and unlikely to get him whatever help he needs. At this point when I see that guy I cross the street or ignore him as I walk by.

      • Ally

        Yeah, agreed. I spent a lot of time in that area and a number of the panhandlers are mentally disturbed. So, contacting someone who can help with that’s a good way to go.

    • All the time. He’s otherwise known as “DC taxi driver”

    • Is this a slightly overweight caucasian individual? If so…yes…he is the worst. He told my hispanic coworkers to go back to “Taco Land” and called me a bitch because I didn’t smile at him.

      • I see that guy all the time.

        I was coming out of one of those crappy pay by the pound buffet places once and he says:

        “Oh, so you’ll give your money to those chinks, but not to me?!”

        I said: “I gave them money in exchange for this food, what did you do to deserve it?”

        • I would guess he’s suffering from mental illness but it’s still brutal when you see him yelling at two little girls and calling them “little b*tches” to their faces as they walk by with their parents. I’ve seen him cast insults that cover pretty much everything – race, age, weight, etc. He has no recollection of anyone, either. You can give him money days in a row and then the first time you don’t he’s got a nasty comment for you, usually something like “I hope you fall crossing the street and die.”

          • I know exactly who this is and he VERY clearly has a mental illness. He’s around the Farragut/McPherson area a lot and appears to be well-known to police. He’s extremely profane, but it’s more sad than legitimately offensive.

      • HaileUnlikely

        He is very obviously very mentally ill. He is one of the less pleasant individuals I encounter with any regularity, but I don’t think there is any justification for calling him (or anybody who is obviously mentally ill) “the worst.”

        • He is kinda the worst. Mental illness is very sad, but knowing that doesn’t really help when you’re watching him call people the N word and being generally really hateful. I don’t direct the hate back at him, but “the worst” seems a pretty minor and understandable thing to say.

    • I used to walk by this man almost every day in McPherson Square park in the summer. He was so rude and upsetting to me that I started walking around the park just so I wouldn’t have to hear him comment on my clothes or appearance.

  • I have encountered both of these individuals. The woman once asked me for “Dove winter care moisturizer body wash” and then asked the person behind me for a specific brand and type of shampoo and specified the bottle size. She sometimes has a cart with her, I sort of wonder if she is collecting for other homeless folks too?

  • epric002

    bold (asking for specific items) and persistent maybe, but aggressive? i wouldn’t describe either as aggressive based on the details provided.

    • Agree, this isn’t that big of a deal to me.

    • Ally

      Same here. I’m especially prone to help out someone asking for food or toiletries, even if she may be hoarding them.

      • Yeah, even if she’s collecting to re-sell, she’s not “getting away” with anything. Her life is definitively crappier than mine, and if a $4 bodywash helps her out, that’s not too much for me. But even if it were, it doesn’t sound like she gets mad or anything if you don’t give it.

  • I’m sort of spitballing here, so apologies if this isn’t a perfectly formed thought.
    My first thought is that although I agree with Dan about 90% of the time when he chimes in, I very much understand and sympathize with the OP here. There are parts of downtown, including every area where I’ve worked, where there are, let’s say, assertive panhandlers. I also recognize a lot of people as regulars at Bread for the City, which is right near my house, so there is rarely a time I am outside and not thinking about homelessness in this city.
    I’m very sensitive to the fact that homelessness is a legitimate and serious issue in DC and that individual homeless people each have their own stories of being homeless, mostly for reasons that are beyond their individual control. I love the first person project and look forward to each story they post.
    That said, I believe in donating to organizations more than giving a dollar or so to (some) individual people. Many of the most assertive panhandlers are people I don’t necessarily want to engage with, either because I find them intimidating or am worried about creating some kind of relationship with them for other reasons. I want to help, but (in most cases) from a bit of a distance. This isn’t the case with -every- homeless person or panhandler, but it is the case with some, even most of them. I’m pretty convinced that organizations are better equipped to deal with issues than I am in most cases.
    Some of the most assertive and intimidating panhandlers hang out right in front of CVS entrances. There is no way to get in without engaging with them, and I don’t always want to engage with them. Sometimes I just want to get my prescription filled or whatever. It’s not that I don’t care about homeless individuals or about the bigger problem — I really do — but sometimes I do feel that a line gets crossed. Sometimes I just want a little peace and quiet and I don’t think it’s too much to ask.

    • binpetworth

      Very well said. I am in the same camp, and believe in supporting causes rather than just anyone who asks–so in my case, I buy Street Sense from licensed vendors, donate to S.O.M.E. and Miriam’s Kitchen, etc. instead of giving any one person spare change.

    • “There is no way to get in without engaging with them”
      I don’t know exactly what you mean by “engaging with them” but I don’t agree. You don’t have to speak to them, look at them, or give them anything if you don’t want to. If that makes you feel bad about yourself, then it’s quite easy to simply look at them, maybe nod or smile, and keep moving. I know what you mean about “a little peace and quiet” but if you’re outside a CVS in DC, you’re not surrounded by peace and quiet regardless of the presence of panhandlers. So I don’t think of them as panhandlers, I think of them as any random person who happens to be standing near the door, and carry on with my day.

      • I’m not asking you to agree with me or have the same response as I do. But I do want to note that this is exactly what I do — smile, nod and go about my business. This part doesn’t bother me. What does bother me are the comments that sometimes follow. The comments range from sexist remarks about the way I look to questions about my husband to shaming me for not offering them money. This isn’t everyone, but it happens often enough and can be really upsetting.
        Out of curiosity, do the random people you mentioned usually obstruct your path, or keep talking loudly or meanly to you until say or do something? That is what I’m talking about here.

        • epric002

          i didn’t interpret your characterization of them as “assertive” to mean that they were actually obstructing your path or verbally harassing you. as upsetting/disgusting as the verbal harassment can be, i tend to (try to) just ignore it b/c it is so often untreated mental illness talking. the obstruction would be more bothersome to me. i would probably a) mention to the store manager that a certain person is harassing their customer;s and/or b) stop patronizing that business if that person was always there. i realize that b) is not always an option.

          • I really don’t want to harp on this because I realize it borders on homeless person shaming or suggesting that I’m somehow terribly inconvenienced by their existence and that’s not at all my goal or intent.
            But b really isn’t an option a lot of the time, for me anyway. In the case of the CVS near my office, individual people don’t stick around long enough for a manager to do much of anything, but there often seems to be someone in front of the door. It’s also an issue on the other corner near my office, where there isn’t an obvious person inside a building who I could discuss it with.
            I don’t blame these panhandling individuals, but I also don’t dismiss the OP’s concerns. Many panhandlers in DC, from what I can tell, have some type of untreated mental illness and they can seem menacing at times. It can be upsetting to encounter mentally ill people on a regular basis if you aren’t a trained professional (and maybe even if you are). I can understand why the OP might be concerned about his or her own safety or not want to have repeat encounters like this.

        • Sure that happens every so often, but not even close to most of the time. To me that’s an exception – I don’t like it, but I will also say that being rude in public is not at all limited to homeless people/panhandlers, so I make a conscious effort not to conflate the two or assume that they go hand-in-hand.

          • Krampus, I think we’re talking past each other here. Or maybe you’re just enjoying being argumentative. I never meant to suggest that every person who isn’t homeless or panhandling is a delightful person. I’m not sure what would give you that impression.
            “That happens every so often, but not even close to most of the time.” This is your experience. Please don’t assume it’s mine or put words in my mouth.

          • I’m confused by your response. You asked a question and I answered it. I’m not making assumptions or putting words in your mouth. I’m telling you what I do and what my experience is.

  • “I assure you this person is not living the high life surrounded by luxurious deodorants and toothpaste and laughing about her day’s exploits.”
    100% this. Is it annoying to get solicited for money/food/items five different times when you’re walking down the street? Sure. Do you think it’s more awful for the person having to do the soliciting? I guarantee it. Unless the person is verbally or physically threatening you, I don’t think you have much to complain about.

  • I sometimes buy the older gentleman a breakfast burrito at Qdoba. He is very nice.

    • Yeah, he does the same thing in front of the 7-11 and Starbucks on Vermont and I’ve never gotten an aggressive vibe from him. He does single people out when he’s asking for food, but if you’re not helping him out that day and decline, he just moves onto the next person.

  • Some of the panhandlers around Farragut turn around and return the items purchased for them in order to pocket the cash. Just ignore.

    • That comment sounded more unsympathetic than I intended. I can and do donate to homelessness organizations, and I have in the past purchased food and necessities for individuals who are homeless and near my office. I think everyone should, and the city needs to do more — it’s heartbreaking how much of a homelessness problem we have in our nation’s capital. It’s just that there are a few near Farragut North who I’m not sure are homeless and/or are overly assertive to the point of aggressive. Are they living the high life? No. But their tactics make me uncomfortable.

    • HaileUnlikely

      I usually avoid people who are panhandling aggressively, and I rarely give money to any of them, but if somebody has the smarts to get me to buy him a bottle of shampoo and then turns around and sells it, I’m actually ok with that. I suspect that many of us engage in functionally similar activities as a part of our regular employment and get paid a nice salary to do so.

    • And some of them really just want to shower and brush their teeth like any of us do.

  • This is all emblematic of the very sad state of public mental healthcare in this country. Decades ago, these people would’ve been institutionalized. It sounds harsh, but in many cases they were at least receiving the care they required.

  • I always admire generosity, but you are a part of the problem. There are many places where someone can get free toiletries, Miriam’s Kitchen for instance (as well as a hot breakfast and dinner), so there’s no reason to give into panhandlers downtown.

    • Actually, local homeless service organizations regularly have shortages of toiletries, especially feminine hygiene products. This is a real need for homeless people that goes unmet too often.

      • Then please donate toiletries to such organizations instead of contributing to panhandling outside of businesses.

        • Why is that the superior option?

          • Organizations like Miriam’s Kitchen not only provide meals and toiletries but work to end homelessness by providing job services and housing options, among other things.

          • HaileUnlikely

            Miriam’s Kitchen is awesome. I strongly support donating to them. Nonetheless I have absolutely no problem with also giving a bar of soap to somebody who needs one. I don’t subtract anything I give to anybody on the street from what I would have otherwise donated.

          • I know homeless service organizations do many great things, but why should I not give toiletries to a homeless person on the street who’s asking for them?

          • @carlosthedwarf
            Well you asked why I thought that giving to organizations like Miriam’s Kitchen was the “superior option” and I told you. Contributing to panhandlers on the street encourages them to return frequently to ask for more. There are many panhandlers who don’t need things, but who return to the same spots where they get the most from people. The end result is they become professional beggars instead of getting help finding permanent employment and housing.

    • HaileUnlikely

      What is “the problem” that you are referring to here? Your problem of being inconvenienced by having homeless people ask you for things? Honestly, I don’t much care about that problem.

    • The problem of having to see people who make you feel uncomfortable?

    • Actually, many homeless people have plenty of access to free toiletries, etc. but are panhandling money to get a hotel room for the night. DC does not have enough beds for its homeless population. Plus, even if they’re “professional beggars” as you put it below, that lifestlye is not so glamorous that I begrudge them it, or think they’re getting away with something by not getting a “real” job.

      I give money to panhandlers because 1) they need it, and 2) they asked me for it. It’s not my intent to rescue them from their bad, wrong life. They can live however they want. They want an amount of money that will make a big difference to them, and very little difference to me. That’s all the convincing I need.

  • That man on 19th street used to always be in front of the Adams Morgan Safeway. I tried to buy him an apple once and he refused it because he had dentures, so I tried to buy him an Odwalla juice and he complained that it would “make him have to go to the bathroom” and then asked that I buy him donuts, so I gave up. There will probably be people who disagree with me, but if I’m going to buy someone food, I refuse to buy them crap that doesn’t qualify as food, and if they’re picky after 2 attempts, then they must not be hungry.

    • We’ve had homeless looking for food on the street turn down leftover bread (or small loaves) from Le Dip. Perfectly fresh and delicious, but “Nahhhh”. smh

  • Let’s break this down a bit. Your complaint is:

    1) A homeless person is asking for help
    2) Other people are helping that person
    3) Those homeless people continue to ask for help

    Gee, it’s almost like one meal doesn’t solve all a homeless person’s problems. This is a thoughtless complaint.

  • I know the guy you’re talking about. I bought him an apple once and then he showed me that he has no bottom teeth, so he passed on it. the next time i gave him a banana and he was very sweet about it since he remembered i was the apple girl. i feel really badly saying no, and while i make enough to live (but not save), i can’t afford to buy every person something to eat every single day. so i politely apologize. i still feel like crap walking into 7-11 for my stupid $4 fruit salad which i can’t really afford on a regular basis either.

  • I wrote in a “housing first” discussion a number of weeks ago that I had worked as a full time supervisor at 2 different homeless shelters back in the 90’s, and my experience is that there are lots of different opinions on panhandling — even among people in the field. In the San Francisco job we were expressly forbidden from giving money to homeless people, even in our off time. They viewed it as an ethics violation for us to have any type of contact or relationship with any homeless person outside of the shelter and also viewed giving money to panhandlers as counter to their mission. In Boston they were more lax about that but most (not all) staff and administration would prefer that money be aggregated where it could do the most good.
    If it matters, my position is that *I* don’t give money on the street, for safety and other reasons. However I also don’t mind if others’ individual consciences dictate otherwise. Of course, truly aggressive or threatening behavior shouldn’t be tolerated but I’m guessing that my standards of what’s threatening might be different than most.

    • epric002

      thanks for your perspective. i also tend not to give money to individuals, for a variety of reasons from safety to the fact that i rarely have cash on me. occasionally i will make exceptions, and sometimes if i’m already planning on going in the store/restaurant i will ask them if they want something to eat/drink. other than those individuals who are asking/harassing/threatening everyone, i rarely have a negative experience if i politely tell them something along the lines of “sorry, no cash”.

      • ” i rarely have a negative experience if i politely tell them something along the lines of ‘sorry, no cash'”
        That’s the key, isn’t it? I stopped working in that area over 20 years ago but still use the habits I developed back then — mostly involving looking panhandlers in the eye and saying no politely — and haven’t had a run-in that made me fear for my safety yet. A couple of crazy comments from time to time, sure, but the majority of the time I get a thanks for acknowledging the person’s existence or some other version of “have a nice day.”
        And while you all are debating the need for hygiene products at shelters, let me put a thought in everyone’s heads: new socks and underwear. Let me repeat: new socks and underwear. When people came in with those we thought they were gods.

        • “mostly involving looking panhandlers in the eye and saying no politely ”
          I can’t endorse this enough. My sense is that they appreciate being treated like any other human being even if you’re telling them you’re not going to give them anything.

  • ” I assure you this person is not living the high life surrounded by luxurious deodorants and toothpaste and laughing about her day’s exploits. ” – AWESOME!

  • I challenge the mayor to address the homeless problem in DC. It is not cute and it is not harmless. If you give them money, there is no way of knowing what they will spend it on. Drugs? Alcohol? I have seen them urinate and defecate where kids play and where people walk. I have seen them handle things in restaurants that other customers use. I have seen them steal tip jars. I have seen lice in bathroom sinks where they wash. This is a real problem with real consequences. When is our city government going to address this? We can’t say the solution is just to give them a dollar and walk away.

  • Sick of people being “inconvenienced” by the homeless and panhandlers. It’s not like anyone WANTS to be out there doing that! No child grows up hoping to one day do that. A woman was carrying a baby and holding a sign reading “please help me and my baby” on the metro this week. I gave a dollar – just for the sheer fact that she must be in some sort of trouble — no one would wake up thinking, “let me take my baby and see how much money I can make!” ….. Honestly, people need to learn to just ignore what bothers them like everyone else in this city.

Comments are closed.