“starts screaming expletives at me about how I’m not a Muslim or a brother and that I shouldn’t be wearing a “Muslim moon”

cvs p street
1400 block of P Street, NW

“Dear PoPville,

Wanted to see if you or readers have any idea of what goes on in front of the CVS on P Street next to Whole Foods…

There’s always a man there who chants “help me if you can, help me if you can… help me if you can, only if you can… help me if you can, help me if you can… etc”. Oftentimes he’s joined by a group of other people, and they just lounge around. At some point they had a full set up with patio furniture and milk crates set up. I’ve always wondered why CVS hasn’t done anything about it… it’s been going on since I’ve moved to Logan Circle (back in August 2013).

I have one friend who offered to help last year… he asked her if she could buy him a few things at CVS… and she said sure, thinking that he would just get a bag of chips or something. Instead, he came to the register with over $100 worth of Tide detergent, and the friend – not wanting to be awkward – paid for it. I thought the story was funny, and always thought of the group as being pretty innocuous… until last night.

Last night, I was walking down P Street at around 11pm (from Whole Foods). The man is there, and as I approach, begins his standard greeting of “help me if you can young man, help me if you can. It’s cold I need a place to sleep”. I was wearing a Turkish flag tshirt, and he also says “As-Salaam-Alaikum” (standard Muslim Greeting)… and then starts screaming expletives at me about how I’m not a Muslim or a brother and that I shouldn’t be wearing a “Muslim moon”. I continue walking, and a man comes out of the alley adjacent to CVS, and starts following me, asking me why I wasn’t helping that “poor old man” and screaming other expletives at me. Luckily, by the time I got to the Dolcezza corner, there were other people, and he disappeared…

I guess question is, do you know the background behind all of this? It seems like he’s running some sort of an operation – he’s there everyday, and has furniture set up, and has friends who come over. How come CVS hasn’t done anything about it? I’m hoping that the man in the alley wasn’t connected, but it definitely rattled me a bit… especially given that I walk past him multiple times a day.”

Ed. Note: I can’t believe you’re friend paid for the $100 worth of Tide detergent that seems excessive.

74 Comment

  • Tide laundry detergent is a form of street currency used in the drug trade. Its a well known, easily identified item that’s commonly used so it has high resale value. Your friend essentially bought him $100 of drugs.

  • I’ve heard that part of the reason they lock up detergent at the stores now is that it’s the most commonly stolen item. Not sure if that’s true, but if it is, maybe that’s some sort of scam (selling the detergent for cheap on the side or something).

    • I’ve also seen Dove men’s bodywash locked up in CVS and grocery stores. Apparently they’re stolen often too.

  • Is this the same guy that is often at the CVS at 17th and P Street? It sounds like him with the familiar “Help me if you can, only if you can.” The guy at 17th/P also has a boom box playing most of the time. He has been there for years.

    • They’re different. I’ve never seen the 17th and P guy be violent. I lived on that corner for 10 years.The post above is talking about the cvs between 14 and 15 on P.

    • Totally different. The 17th & P guy is the nicest, always has a treat for my dog, always has some nice things to say about the world, and always gets a dollar out of me.

      • 17th and P guy is super sweet! I go to Vida so I encounter both these people. The one at 14 is downright rude and aggressive. 17th and P always has a smile and something nice to say. Guess which one I’ve given money to and which one I haven’t.

    • I hope they’re different. The guy at 17th and P is always super nice, playing happy music, giving treats to dogs and chatting with other people from the neighborhood.

  • yeah, i walk over there a lot. had one guy ask me to give him more than what he originally asked for like he was negotiating a deal or something. it was then i stopped paying attention to these clowns, haha.

  • Tide is actually–oddly–a big drug currency.

  • It is obviously some sort of operation as you have indicated. Regardless of feeling awkward, your friend should’ve told him to get lost after he brought that excessive amount of Tide to the register.

    I recently bought a man lunch at Giant and he proceeded to grab a couple of beers to bring to the register. I told him to not push his luck and he returned them (dropping one on the floor accidentally). Can’t blame the man for trying to enjoy a frothy one or two with his lunch

    • This is why I buy something and don’t ask for specifics. One time a man outside the grocery store was asking for food saying he was hungry. So I bought him a sandwich and when I brought it out to him he said “No, I don’t have any teeth! I can’t eat that. How about you take me down the street to Wendy’s!”

  • +1

    He hit the jackpot that day. That makes it all worth it to continue the hustle. He probably thinks that Logan residents are soooo generous. Beats panhandling in the Gallery Place or elsewhere.

  • Walk by them all the time and haven’t had a bad experience yet although I do not interact with them and always keep my headphones in. With that said, when walking alone at night I have seen a man in the same alley who started to walk behind me but disappeared once I got to the Dolcezza corner.

  • Another win with the URL Dan

  • I find it strange that everyone seems more concerned with pointing out that Tide is the detergent of choice for the drug-related black market than the actual harassment that the OP and many others must deal with on an everyday basis simply by virtue of having to walk around and buy stuff. The point should be that this is not acceptable behavior anywhere in the city, that it should not be written off as part of “city living,” that it’s extremely uncool. Unfortunately it seems that this is the norm in DC for many forms of violence or threatening behavior; tolerating it only makes it worse.

    What can be done about these guys hanging around threatening people on the public streets? I’m not a criminal lawyer, police person, drug or alcohol counselor or someone who works with disadvantaged or vulnerable populations, I’m just someone who wants to buy batteries without someone leaping out of an alley and threatening me in a violent manner.

    Cue: “maybe you should move to the suburbs/you must be new here/you are a gentrifying jerk” comments.

    • Threatened assault is indeed against the law. Getting DC police to give a shite is another matter.

      • Where did either of the men threaten assault? I see anger at a shirt and expletives.

        • I do too, to clarify. But specifically addressing JQH3’s issue of “without someone leaping out of an alley and threatening me in a violent manner,” if it were done as clearly as that, it would be a crime.
          I think the “trouble” lies in drawing a line between allowing “less palatable” homeless people be eccentric (if not coping with untreated mental disorders) and have their rights to exist as best they can manage, and when that eccentric behavior becomes a genuine threat. Could be tricky to assess, and would basically need to be done right in front of an officer. I also don’t want a situation where everyone calls police on our homeless because “they looked at them funny.”

    • +1 – I walk past this particular “operation” several times per week and have since I moved to the neighborhood in 2011, but I have never experienced anything I would consider a threat or harassment. I have no idea why it is allowed to be a persistent hangout and I’d prefer it not be one. I do chalk it up to city life, but I also think “does it have to be this way?” I guess that makes me a yuppie, gentrifying, privileged, future suburbanite.

      • After deinstitutionalization, there was supposed to be a growth in smaller, less horrible mental health providers (and more local, rather than big state hoispitals), they were also supposed to help integrate the mentally ill with the public, with support and assessment. That never happened. So we closed institutions (yay) but left people on the street (boo). Most of the mentally ill are not violent, most of the homeless are not violent (usually studies of rates of violent crime are below or the same as the non-homeless).
        So one factor is a lack of mental health facilities to accommodate people abandoned by institutions. Another related issue is that (I witnessed this at shelters I used to work for) some families, rather than assist their special needs relatives and children, let them fend for themselves. Depending on their level of functioning, they can be more likely to end up homeless. Likewise with the aging mentally ill – if they survive their familial caregivers, they often lack the skills to maintain their own homes.
        Economic factors, a dwindling working class, etc. etc.
        Homeless are more noticeable in “city life” because they are greater in number (as are non-homeless), and because some seek city bustling activity in hopes of having more of a support system of other homeless, more resources for the homeless, and more tourists and such to spare from.
        But overall, they are not statistically more violent. They might be… unpleasant. But rarely they are violent.

        Unless they’re addicts — and then all bets are off. Crack and heroin addicts will do anything. But they’re also less likely to be the ones with routine patterns sparing for change — they’re more likely to be holed up in an abandoned house getting high, leaving only to get more junk.

      • I don’t think the point is a whether or not someone yelling curse words at you is technically “assault,” that is a question best left to the armchair jurists haunting comment boards everywhere. We can probably all agree that someone leaping from an alley and yelling at you for wearing a t-shirt is not acceptable behavior. My overall point is that folks in DC these days seem to be too accepting of this type of thing, in my opinion (of course). I’m not sure why; maybe it is people who moved here more recently and think, well, this is what cities are like. Well, people yelling in cities is a thing, it’s just not cool to have so much of it so often, as seems to be the case now. I don’t have a solution, everyone can obviously buy all of the Tide in the store for whoever is hanging around, I suppose that it’s more of a gripe that street harassment seems to be more OK now than it has been in the past, which I think is bad.

        • I get what you’re saying, but the question of what can be done about it and what is acceptable is ultimately one of…. laws. I’m not an expert, and laws can be changed, but therein lies the answer.

          • It strikes me as a combination of laws, policies and community acceptance. They are clearly all related, I don’t control any of them. I’m just saying that the community acceptance of this, plus other violence that harms and kills people in the city, seems higher to me than in the past. I am suggesting that this story and the comments about the story are examples of my point, eg, the Tide part is what people seem interested in. Assaults are uncool, as is yelling at people for t-shirts. Many people seem to think it’s OK because: cities. I am tacitly suggesting that acceptance of the assaults may lead to more assaults; if assaults are the norm people will just say, well, we have lots of assaults here, so get used to being assaulted. That’s bad.

          • There could be a community promotion against it (like I’ve suggested for street harassment against women – similarly “legal” in some views, but needs to stop).

            The trouble with that could be, whereas you could put “Keep your hands and words to yourself” on posters at Metro stations and bus stops and on the trains, I’m not sure how best to communicate a message like that to people living on the street. And some street people might be too (lets hope nonviolent but) low functioning to really process it — or they might be self-medicating and get “screamy” some hours of the day when they’re drunk, etc. (For that matter, the number of non-homeless drunk-ass folk who have yelled at me needlessly after stumbling out of a bar they spent $120 at is not small, but I digress).

            Yelling at someone for their choice of shirt is unfortunate, but not illegal. We could try to promote better behavior among homeless street people, but I don’t know how best to reach them – apart from increasing funding, capacity and use of organizations that help transition them off the streets. Maybe that’s the answer.
            And again – since it seems to jump back and forth – actual assault (not yelling “hey your shirt is dumb”) is actually illegal.

        • Why do you think people are more ok with it than in the past? I feel like people have been complaining vigorously about street harassment since I moved to DC in the 90s. Street harassment is really tough to police because a lot of it is not criminal and many of those responsible are mentally ill. I don’t enjoy it, and I never have. But I don’t call the police every time it happens either, because a) I’d be on the phone with 911 basically every time I went somewhere on foot or bike and b) because they can’t necessarily do anything about it other than ask the person to move along.

  • Gotta love street economics. One wonders how did this become a “thing”… big heavy jugs of detergent as currency. Who first thought that was a good idea. Who made it work? Recently I’ve had guys try to sell me “diabetes strips” I guess another form of currency in the hood these days. If only we had factories or farms for these people to work in.

  • I guess everyone’s a lot more fixated on the Tide and story of enabling than the specific incident at hand.
    .
    I’ve interacted with those guys before (going back as far as 2010) and observed them a number of times while waiting for my wife outside of CVS with the dog. I’ve never seen them act violent towards passersby before (though I’ve seen them get into some pretty serious fights with each other, wherein they’ve constantly dared each other to go back into the alley with them to fight it out). Odd for them to get into it about your islamic icons; sounds like you’re white and they took issue with it because they assumed white couldn’t be muslim? I guess you should probably report this incident, but I wouldn’t blame you if you didn’t (I’ve had incidents like this that I didn’t report, though never with those guys outside CVS).

  • I have walked by this guy a 100 times. He always seems good natured and not dangerous, but some of the others that occassionally hang out on the block do seem drugged out and potentially violent. There is enough foot traffic that I never feel unsafe, but it does seems like an issue waiting to happen.

    • I walk by here at least once a day, usually more. I’ve never seen anyone who seems remotely violent (and I’ve worked with violent people in my life)—there might be a heated discussion among the guys, but nothing that has ever concerned me.

      • Well, if you worked around violent people you probably have a higher tolerance level than others.

        Having to walk around two guys screeming at each other on the sidewalk and threating to harm one another may not seem like a big deal to you. But, for others I think it is fair to say this has the potential to turn violent. I have also seen people who are clearly out of it and not mere stoners. Maybe they will just sit around and just mutter jiberish to themselves. But, these are people who clearly do not have rational control over there actions and I wouldn’t want to risk drawing their attention.

        So while I consider the man described here as a “harmless panhandler”, there are others that through their actions make me a lot more nervious. Fortunately, the more aggressive ones do not seem to be an everyday occurance.

        • I’m curious why you’d continue to walk in front of cvs rather than cross the street if the scene of a couple homeless guys arguing frightens you?
          I’ve never worked around violent individuals, and I’ve never seen anything escalate to violence in 2+ years of walking to and in front that cvs.

          • This is DC,where peoplewodragher carry on about people standing on the left on Metro escalators rather than say excuse me pass and move on mtaphorically and otherwise.

  • Buying $100 of Tide should have been a tip-off that something was off (that and it being locked-up). This guy has been there evenings everyday since I moved into the area in 2008. I just ignore him and beyond his usual spiel, he doesn’t bother me. That should be the contract for these things.

    DC has many resources for the homeless and the suburban churches from places with plenty of poverty do their outreach here (see where the vans are from when they do lunch at Franklin Park). There’s no reason to to give anything to these characters. Social agencies generally don’t want you to do anything, because that does get people into services. It’s the people who don’t bother you who probably have actual needs.

  • I would just point out that there is really never a need for someone to panhandle money for food. There are at least half a dozen or more places in the city that feed the homeless every day. I understand many homeless people will not go to those places for one reason or another. But they exist. Give if you want, but know there are services that actually do provide meals to the homeless and in most cases the DC shelters have shuttles that take them to those places every single day. I live near one and the vans show up like clockwork in the morning and they all scatter for their “spots” in the city since the shelters in DC close during the day.

    • [I’m posting too much on this thread – sorry – running out the clock while I listen to a teleconference at work.]

      I would mostly agree. There’s always a question of their capacity, but I think giving to organizations is the much more thoughtful way to be kind.
      Giving to a panhandler – even if they are saintly and spend it on food, as they often do, let’s hope – is enabling them to live on the street. Giving to an organization is enabling them to get more support, treatment, learn domestic skills, and possibly transition to their own home

      At the shelter I worked at, we had clients with rudimentary untreated health issues – gangrene, frostbite, diabetes – treatable things. Giving someone $1, or a cup of soup, isn’t going to TREAT THEIR GANGRENE.

      People’s heart are in the right place, but homeless people need more help than your change, directly, can give them.

  • justinbc

    “Why hasn’t CVS done anything?”
    Because the sidewalk isn’t their property.

    • ^ this.

      (Although — it seems to be their property when they routinely block 99% of a sidewalk while they unload their trucks, amirite?)

    • I don’t think the ability to take action stops there. It limits your rights or options, sure. But, if someone did this in front of your residence, you wouldn’t do anything and just say “well the sidewalk is not my property, so there is nothing I can do”? To be fair to CVS, I am not sure what can be done or if they have made attempts to address it.

      • justinbc

        People do annoying crap in front of my house much more frequently than I would like, and no I do not go out and confront them because I like my windows not shot up.

  • This is technically “aggressive panhandling”. It is illegal in DC. Please note identifying characteristics of the individual(s), go around the corner, and call 911. I have seen the police respond to these complaints with remarkable speed.

    The endless Popville chatter about deinstitutionalization, etc. is amusing and really out Onions the Onion. Please stay off of the soapbox, unless you are actually trying to entertain us.

  • Errr… Welcome to DC I guess? That’s really not altogether that severe of a tongue lashing, I’ve seen a lot worse for a lot less. Not that it was that bad but once a woman gave my feet the middle finger and called me the “f@&king antichrist!!” and a bunch of other unintelligible things because I was running in Vibrams. In her defense though, Vibrams make everyone look like a jerk. That said, it’s always is shocking and unsettling to get yelled at by someone on the street.

    • You’re OUR f@&king antichrist, TacoPants! Also, I agree. I have had exactly one negative interaction with this group, and it involved some unsavory things being said about my body for the entertainment of the whole block. It wasn’t the guy who’s always there, though–it was someone hanging around. Hopefully this was a one-off experience.

  • I know the employees at this CVS, and they try repeatedly to do something about this situation. Yes, the sidewalk is public property, but the police have said that if the offenders are sitting down, then that is in violation of “incommoding” and they will respond. Citizens can call the police about this too, and you don’t have to stick around for them to show up.

  • I’ve called the cops a couple of times when the threats have been particularly bad – I’ve had guys threaten to kill me for not giving them money and when that happens, I keep walk, pull out my phone, and speed dial DCPS…not that it does any good.. There is one regular guy out front there who does the “help me if you can, only if you can” thing and is generally harmless. He’s usually alone, however, on weekend nights, he and his buddies usually gather there and I’m guessing are drunk. The harassment gets loud and vulgar at that point, and occasionally involves threats of violence. HOWEVER, there is also a different guy who occasionally works that spot during the day, often peddling Street Sense. That guy will just flat out tell you he’s going to physically harm you if you don’t give him money. He also loudly talks to himself, so, I’m guessing he’s schizophrenic There’s also a third guy, who may not be homeless. He looks to be a teenager and is often on a bike, and he also will threaten to kill you if you don’t give him money, but I’ve only encountered him 3-4 times in the four years I lived down there. Honestly, that side of the street had become so sketchy by the time I moved in January that if I ever needed to walk past WF, I just crossed the street. If I had to go to CVS, I’d try to go to another location or go in the early evening when it was usually just the somewhat non-threatening guy out there. Going to that CVS on a weekday afternoon or a weekend night, you have a decent chance of being physically threatened by a panhandler.

  • Pretty sure those guys have been there since I moved to the area in 2005. And probably before that. Just ignore it and don’t give them money or Tide

  • CVS must like him because people get suckered into buying $100 worth of purchases for him.

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