Door-to-Door Sales, Panhandling, and Solicitations
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Door-to-Door Sales, Panhandling, and Solicitations
We were enjoying a quiet Saturday afternoon puttering around
our home and the kids were playing outside. A young man
approached me and starting to tell me that he was fundraising
for athletes. He flashed a laminated card to show that he was
legit. I told him that we can't participate and he became
belligerent. First he claimed that he was just collecting soup
labels, and when I still told him no he stalked off. He started
saying, "You people are stupid" and walked down the street
swearing and looking back at me. He continued to approach other
neighbors down the street and yelled at them as he left each
residence. I decided to call the police. Albany's finest
responded and did a 2-car drive around in the neighborhood. I
believe the guy split. Now I feel worried about it. At first I
thought the guy was just stressed out because he was getting
rejections and he needed to stop and take a break. Then I
stared fearing that he will seek revenge on our neighborhood. I
also felt that he had a pre-conceived attitude about the
response he would receive on a racial level. Or did I do the
right thing by calling the police because a threatening
individual, possibly in an altered state, was visiting our
homes? Is Albany the only lucky community who gets solicitors
like this, people from questionable organizations trying to get
money? I try to solve problems with people and I hate bothering
the police but I felt protective of my neighborhood and my
Did you get the name of the supposed organization this person
was soliciting for? I'd call them if you did.
Years ago I had a solicitor come to my door asking for money
for an environmental cause. When I refused he also became angry
and belligerent. When I closed the door he pounded on it really
loudly and demanded that I contribute. I told him he better
leave or I'd call the police.
What I did do was call the organization and report him. I don't
know what happened from there but I never saw him again.
I also now have a sign on my door that says ''No solicitors or
religious prosthelitizers please''...no one knocks anymore
asking for money. I can contribute to organizations of my
choice without feeling invaded or pressured.
It sounds like this guy was not legit. But I wouldn't worry
about it...hopefully he saw he was getting nowhere and moved on.
There is absolutely no excuse for this solicitor's behavior. I
received the same belligerent treatment from a (white female)
solicitor last week, so I would not let any sense of racial guilt
get in the way of your gut instinct about his behavior. In my
case, I called the police and the woman took off never to be
found. Never take chances with these solicitors, and always call
the police if they seem ''off''. Even my overworked Richmond police
told me never to hesitate to call- not all solicitors have a
permit to do what they are doing and not all have good intentions.
You did the right thing. We get solicitors like that all the
time. Several years ago we made the mistake of opening our door
to someone who said she was fund raising for athletes. She also
flashed a laminated card to show that she was legitimate. When
she asked for money, we said we had to think about it and could
she leave a flier. She then became belligerent and started
swearing. We quickly closed the door and told her if she didn't
leave immediately we would call the police. Fortunately, she left
and we never heard from her again. Since then, we never open our
door to solicitors. Many of them get angry when we don't open our
door but they never come back. I wouldn't worry about this man
coming back because you called the police. If anything, calling
the police will make him less likely to come back since he'll be
too scared to come back. If anything, he's already moved on to
another neighborhood where there are hardly any police.
I would have done the same thing. I have done the same thing.
You're lucky to have a PD that responds quickly and takes the
things seriously. In the worst case, he was legit and needs to
learn some sales manners.
Stop fretting. You did the right thing, especially given the
guy's aggressive behavior. In the past few years, I've seen a few
news stories involving break ins, robberies, and even rape and
murder (in Lafayette) committed by these types of solicitors. I
know they are not all violent criminals, but at very best their
offers are scams. Some people in my neighborhood call the police
every time these solicitors come around, whether they are
belligerent or not. And now, I just use the standard line:
''Sorry. We do not accept any door-to-door solicitations no matter
the cause. Thank you.''
You absolutely did the right thing. We have ''door knockers'' here
in Berkeley too. The Berkeley police advised us through our
neighborhood association that if we had the ''fundraising''
solicitors come to the house we should call the police
non-emergency line and advise that we had a ''door knocker''. We
were also told that anyone soliciting for any reason needs a
permit in Berkeley (probably Albany too) so you can also take the
approach of asking to see their permit. We get quite a few ''door
knockers'' on my street so I tried that approach with one young
woman who came to our door and when I asked for her permit she
basically f-u'd me and that's when I decided to call the police
and report a ''door knocker''. The police were very responsive,
they sent a car up to patrol the area and I haven't seen her
since. In fact, we haven't seen very many on my street since and
we usually have quite a few solicitors ''fundraising for their
middle school'' this time of year. Sadly, most of these ''middle
schoolers'' appear to be at least 18 or 19 years old.
You did the right thing!
we had the same thing happen, except my baby was crying and I
said that I had to tend to my child - at which point he started
cussing and saying I was racist - I said no, I am a mother,
who's child is first priority -
my neighbor with 2 kids also answered and said sorry, our
finances can't supported giving money right now - he said the
same things -
the next day I found my car egged, and she found her screen
door pulled off of its hinges!
calling the police was the obsolute right thing to do, and
hopefully whoever they were saw the police circling, and won't
solicit in your neighborhood again!
False Fundraising Alert
About this time every year people seem to hear from an individual by
the name of Marcus Robinson who claims that he is fundraising for a
tutoring program called BASIC, and is serving the Berkeley schools.
This is not true, in fact Jim Slemp has made it clear that he is not
permitted on the Berkeley High School campus. He has been known to
actually set up meetings in the front corridors of the
administration building, to reinforce the image that he is connected
to BHS. I met him about three years ago, and he looked like he was
just stepping out of a meeting with one of the vice principals. He
has been doing this for years and is very convincing. Mr. Robinson
will probably show you a letter signed by school board director John
Selawsky. The letter is real, but was written for one specific
project that John believed to be true at the time, before we began
to hear stories of questionable fundraising attempts going back 20
Please report any attempts by this man to the Berkeley Police
Department Fraud Division 981-5900. Ask for copies of any material
he shows you.
If you are interested in making a donation to support the work going
on at Berkeley High School or any of the other school sites, there
are funding mechanisms available through the PTA's, and at Berkeley
High, the Berkeley High School Development Group is a great way to
support the parent efforts at BHS: www.bhsdg.org
We had a strange experience this week, and thought we should
post it here and ask if anyone else knows about a scam for
people to be able to get access to your house. A young man
told us he had been hired by a family trust to help solve
neighborhood problems, but that he would need access to our
backyard in order to get the problem solved.
We were uncomfortable with this right away and told him ''no,''
but he attempted to convince us that getting access to our
backyard was the ONLY way he could solve the problem. To me
this seemed ridiculously fishy and I wanted to both notify
others of this possible scam and to find out if anyone has had
a similar experience.
We live in the Oakland Hills, but that doesn't mean this
experience is limited to one area. Perhaps I'm just being
paranoid, but I think in this case, better safe than sorry.
Thanks for reading
Wow, that's scary -- thank you for sharing your experience with
us. I think you did just the right thing -- don't let them in
your back yard! If this was legitamate, you probably would
have received some kind of written notice from the ''trust''
explaining their work and letting neighbors know that someone
would be in the area surveying backyards. We live in Berkeley,
and have a creek on our property. The city recently sent us a
letter asking us if they could have access to our property to
survey the creek. We were given a yes/no option, and many
weeks notice. I think this person is just trying to case your
house. Good for you for standing up to them. Next time, also
call the police and let them know
good for you, having good antennae for weirdness! If people want
to get onto my property they need to cough up a name, and an ID
that matches, as well as a believable reason for being there. I
doesn't sound like your scammer had any of the three.
A related scam is the guy trolling the Berkeley Hills lately.
He's holding himself out as an inspector for City of Berkeley.
He's NOT, and is casing homes while he trys to hard-sell you on
getting your street no painted on the curb in front of your
home. He was very aggressive w/me after he painted the curb
without my ok and when I asked for ID he ran. I called the
police to find that he and a few accomplices have a history of
breaking and entering.
now a member of my neighborhood watch
does anyone have any information about the kids (or, young adults probably in their
late teens/early twenties) who go around selling magazines. the pair that recently
came to my house said that they were sent out here by there company from the
midwest, working on commission, to learn how to get experience with face to face
communications, speaking skills, trust, etc.
i listened to the young man's speal for about 10 minutes, and even offered to buy
the magazines until he told me that he needed either cash or check with the order.
when i told him no he got a bit defensive. asking why i can't have faith in the lord,
offering a blessing to someone who needs it, that he needs the check to get his
commission and that one of the to traits he needs to show is his trustworthiness.
i tried to tell him that i'd be happy to help if could just leave me information on the
company, yet his response was that i obviously didn't trust him and why didn't i
trust him? he even proceeded to show me how one of my neighbors gave him a
unfortunately i can't remember the name of the company he said he was working
for. does anyone know anything about these groups? i'm happy to help people out
but absolutely hate being put on the spot like that as if i'm the one doing something
wrong and being ungenerous.
-skeptical for sure!
I NEVER, NEVER, EVER give anyone money at the door. If they
can't leave me the info so I can decide later, no deal!
Sounds like your visitors were a scam.
That said, I put a sign on my door that says ''NO SOLICITORS''.
Now, no one comes knocking trying to sell me anything. No
political people, no kids, no one. Much better.
I had the same experience -- these young people must be spread
throughout the area, as I live rather far away from the
poster. The young woman was very smooth and rehearsed, working
from a script. She did not reveal that she was selling
magazines until the very end.
There is no way for you to be sure that you will receive
magazines in this situation; in other words, it could be a
scam. A number of ''liberal progressive'' buttons were pushed in
the scripted pitch that indicated that my neighborhood had been
chosen rather carefully, since this was not a person from the
community. There was also a very intelligent psychological
method working, I will paraphrase from memory: ''I have been
coached to talk to you in a way that will not be aggressive or
make you angry. Are you mad at me yet? (charming smile)'' Then
of course it is difficult to be ''mad''.
If you would give money to a person on the street and you do
not resent a potential scam, then you could go ahead
and ''purchase magazines''. But on the spur of the moment, there
is really no easy or ''polite'' way to check up on information.
But this a community problem. If one person in the community
(the neigbor who wrote a check for $190 -- was there any way to
verify that on the spot?) buys the pitch, the doorknockers will
invade in earnest. Such doorknocking is an interruption of
work or private life and makes a person reluctant to go to the
door at all, thus disturbing normal social relations, preys on
seniors, etc. etc.
In short, given my last statement, I would urge everyone on
this list to resist giving money to door-to-door solicitors who
do not represent a community or familiar organization, who ask
you to purchase magazines or other items with no verifiable
connection to a known organization, and who use obvious
psychological and sociological calculation in their pitches.
Kids selling stuff from the local school are a different matter
(though some might argue that they too are a nuisance),
ecological or other activists asking for money yet another (and
again, one could argue against such practices), but these
recent cases seem to me an obvious example of something that
needs to be resisted on a community level.
doesn't like to be shilled
I have had two such visits at the door in the past month. The
first one was a skinny young man who looked cold and scared and
who rattled off a memorized spiel about the magazines (including
saying that he went to the ''University of Berkeley''). I felt
sorry for him but I had fallen for this before and wasn't going
for it. He was very hard to get rid of. The second was a very
outgoing young woman who stuck her hand out as soon as I opened
the door and said ''Hi, I'm Susan, what's your name?'' I
impulsively said my name, which she then used at the doors of all
my neighbors (''I've just talked to your neighbor Ginger, and she
bought maqazines and recommended I talk to you too!'') Of course I
didn't buy any magazines. In fact, when I told her politely I
was sorry but I wasn't buying magazines, and I was in the middle
of putting my kid to bed, she proceeded to yell at me that she
wasn't selling anything, and then yelled some more about how I
don't care about her kids, because she is just a young mother
trying to make a living. I had to literally close the door on
her while she was still yelling at me.
When I was in college I had a friend who worked for one of these
outfits. They exploit kids with a promise of big money and then
ship them off to different states and drop them off in a
neighborhood they've never been in before and pick them up many,
many hours later. The kids are working on commission. If you do a
google search you can read more about this. It's a problem in a
lot of cities and has been around for a long time.
Addendum: after doing a google search I found Parent Watch
website which is a non-profit org that helps the kids that get
sucked into the door-to-door business:
You can make a contribution, or you
can give kids the website when they come to your door looking
cold and scared. There is actually an email address on that
website where a kid can write to to get a ride home.
I don't know where you live, but in our neighborhood (south
Berkeley) neighbors have alerted me to the fact that these are
usually scams. And the ''salespeople'' often tell you that your
neighbors are participating/have bought something -- it's a great
tactic to inspire confidence. I am ashamed to admit that we once
fell for an earnest young man from whom we ordered some
children's magazines. The magazines never showed up, and the
voice mail for the telephone number that we were given was always
full. It wasn't worth pursuing further, but we NEVER buy
anything from our front door anymore. I find it easy to say
simply, ''I'm sorry, we have a house policy never to give money at
the door (this applies to fundraisers for good causes as well as
people selling things). If you want to give me a brochure to
look at, that's fine.'' We do give money to charity, but we seek
the charities out, and we buy magazines from sources that we
identify. Other neighbors actually ask the door-to-door folks
for identification, and indicate that they are going to
investigate whether they are leigimate. A defensive or hostile
reaction to any kind of question, especialy about payment, is a
pretty good indication that this is not a legitimate concern.
Bottom line is, DON'T FALL FOR IT. It's bad for you and it's
also bad for your neighbors, since your area could be known as
one where people are easily suckered. And you have no way of
knowing whether you are being cased for more serious crimes.
This scam is as old as the hills. Unfortunately it is the kids
who are really getting scammed by the people who send them out to
raise money ''for college,'' ''for summer camp'' and other bs. They
raise the money and then never get any of it. And they are
well-trained by their ''sponsors'' in making affluent people feel
Known kids doing the door-to-door
They came to our door a few years ago selling children's books.
He was a nice enough kid, ''out here from the midwest to earn some
money for college.'' He promised us it was a one time only
purchase and we'd get our books in a month or so. Well, the
books came (after about 4 months) and then about a month later we
received another book in the mail! We were suddenly enrolled in
one of those book of the month things. I sent the book back but
then they started billing me for it. Then they billed me again,
which I sent back with a note that I had returned the book that I
had never even ordered. Then they sent a threatening note saying
they were going to turn it over to a collection agency, which I
also sent back with a threatening note of my own explaining why I
hadn't. And THEN, it just so happened that another one of those
kids came to my door, and I let him have it! Boy was he bummed
he came to my door that day! But he told me he would look into
it and after that the threatening letters stopped.
I don't think they're kids looking to earn some money for
college, and you will end up getting more in the mail. On the
other hand, the books we got were great and my son absolutely
I read your message and wanted to let you know about a national
scam that people (mostly young adults) take door to door.
Often times these young adults are from a poor/under privaleged
background, they are on commission, they are bused from town to
town and city to city for months selling ''magazine
subscriptions'' or ''book donations'' to help various
orginazations. They work for companies like, United Family
Circulation out of Georgia. Sometimes they profess to help
major orgs. like The Boys and Girls Club of America, perhaps
one close to your town/city. The odd thing is that they don't
want you to write a check to that organization and they don't
want you to put ''donation'' on the check. Just know that the
money DOES NOT go to those organizations, and this is a scam.
One boy came to my door saying he was raising money for his
baseball team to go to Japan for a tournement. He needed to
sell, ''just four more subscriptions for a charity'' to make it
there. I asked him what team he played for, and he said, ''the
high school team''. I asked him were he lived, and he said, ''oh,
just up the street.'' All the answers were vague or just flat
out lies. Then I noticed that he had a gang-like tatoo on his
knuckles, and I said that's unusual for a teenager in this area
to have such a tatoo (I live in Orinda).
Lastly, if someone comes to your door you should ask them for a
permit to sell door to door. Most cities like Berkeley and
Orinda require this.
Check out the web-sites below regarding door-to-door magazine
And...if you hear these two names below from anyone who comes
to your door this is the BIGGEST SCAM of ALL:
Recent complaints have centered on two Georgia companies,
United Family Circulation and Ultimate Power Sales Inc., a
subsidiary. Last year, Montgomery County police said residents
in Chevy Chase had been asked to buy books from salespeople who
falsely claimed to be collecting for charity on behalf of a
University of Maryland athletic team. Buyers said they were
asked to make checks out to Ultimate Power Sales.
Glad I didn't give my money
I have also had these kids come to my door. One called American
Community Services, Inc and the most recent called D&T
Connections, Inc. Clearing House. The first time I ever
encountered them, I was a student and could not afford to buy
food to eat. When I said I could not, the young man got very
rude (saying I was predujiced, etc). I was very turned off, and
even asked for the company info to lodge a complaint against
him. The next time they came around a few years later, I really
hesitated. When I faltered at the check or cash, the young
woman was very upfront about the company(American Services,
Inc.) and showed me the receipt I would get with all the contact
info. So I caved, I got a phone call fom the company a day
later confirming my order and I got my magazines, 7-8 weeks
later. I also called the company & reviewed their website. The
D & T Connections was just recent and not enough time has passed
for recpt of those mags (husband spoke with that young man, so
I'm not sure how nice he was). And we did receive a phone call
confirming the order. I'm always uncomfortable giving $$ to
door salesmen/women, but it seems like such a good service. So
far we have not seen any problems result from giving money to
these kids. If it feels uncomfortable, feel justified in not
giving in, especially if they become rude.
I was going to ask the same question. It seems that every year
in the fall and winter, I get a slew of these kids knocking on
the door. Some were very polished and convincing but seemed
pretty put out if I didn't want to purchase anything. I
sincerely wanted to help out. Last year, I simply made a
contribution rather than order magazines after listening to a
long schpiel. The young woman selling it seemed positively
huffy. My neighbor found my check torn up in her mailbox.
I won't be doing that again.
We have purchased magazines from this organization. We did it
the first time on faith, hoping that we were not being
scammed. It took a little while but our magazines did indeed
arrive and the same woman has shown up every year since. She
just showed up yesterday as a matter of fact and I told her
that we were magazined-out but I would donate. She said that
for people who didn't need magazines that a $19 donation is
what they were requesting to the organizaiton that sponsors
them. So, yes, they are legit and the people who do the
selling are very friendly and well trained I've found.
- keeping the faith
I'm afraid that I've come to the point where I turn all door-to-door salesepople and
fundraisers away without donating and without even listening to their robotic speal-
it can go on forever and I feel manipulated by most of them.
If it's a charity or cause that I think that I might in fact want to give to, I ask them to
leave me some information, and I ask them to put their name and any other
identification on it so that if I do send it in I can credit them and they can get their
But not all, even organizations that I respect, will leave information which I think is
outrageous, commission or not. They claim to not have enough copies or to not be
allowed to do it. Some will get downright rudely pushy. I have found Calpirg reps, an
organization that I support, to be the worst. I'll shut the door on any rep who
behaves that way, no matter what their cause as I say my last ''no thank you''. I got
so mad one time at Calpirg that I actually wrote them a letter, got an apologetic
response, but nothing changed.
That kid you've described was so way out of line that it sounds like it was all a fake
and you would have been a fool to give him your money. But at the same time, I do
think that it is only reasonable to pay for any magazine subscription out front if you
believe that it is legitimate.
Out neighborhood gets canvassed so much by door to door
solicitors that we now just cut them off immediately and tell
them that because we get solicited so much we just tell
everyone ''no thank you'' and wish them a good day.
Our block had some ''neighborhood watch'' type meetings recently
and here's a few things we learned.
Anyone doing door to door soliciting in Oakland is supposed to
get a permit from the City. If they are a legitimate door to
door operation they will be able to produce the permit (I've
already forgotten, but I think there are actually two documents
they should have.) Something like 90% of solicitors do not have
the required permit.
Some of these door to door folks are actually just casing your
house to see if there is anything worth coming back to steal.
The less time they're at your front door, the less likely
they'll see something they like.
It sad, but I think you're right to be skeptical. A little over
ten years ago, when I was in college, a similar thing occurred
and a neighbor called the police. The ''saleskid'' was arrested
shortly thereafter on a warrant for child molestation. I never
found out what happened after that, but that was enough of a
warning to me.
older and wiser
I have never heard of door-to-ddor magazine sales actually
delivering. I first encountered these sales folks in the early
80's in college dorms. The kids often use the, ''your neighbor
ordered some!'' comment. I also found that if you said you wanted
more info they would get defencsive and pull the ''Why don't you
trust me?'' line. I never buy from these guys. I just don't
trust the ones I have encountered. We don't buy anything or give
out any money at the front door.
- No Thank You
We once bought a magazine subscription from one of those ''door to door saleskids'' for some exorbitant price and decided never to do it again when we found out the company was a sham. It was not the kid's fault, it was whoever put her to work. We now have a policy of only buying from what we know are legitimate charities or from neighborhood kids we know. We don't open the door for ANYONE making sales. If they catch me outside the house, I tell them that I'll take their literature and make a donation online or otherwise.
Not to belabor the point or completely freak people out, but I thought
I'd share some recent news. The man that has been charged with robbing,
raping, and murdering a 90-year-old Lafayette woman (I believed it
happened in Dec. 05) was selling magazine subscriptions door-to-door.
This was reported in both the San Francisco Chronicle and the Contra
Costa Times. Neither paper had information on what company he was
working for. So, it could be he was lying about the subscriptions to
case places, or he worked for one of these companies and used it as a
way of casing places. Regardless, I would not entertain the thought of
engaging these salespeople any more. Not worth even the minute risk.
No More Solictors at My Door
At the risk of opening a real can of worms here, I'd be
interested in knowing how people in and around Berkeley (a) deal
with beggars/solicitors/panhandlers, and (b) talk about homeless
and poverty problems with their children. I'm not trying to start
a debate--I know this is a touchy subject--I'd just like to hear
how different people react to this reality in their community. We
live in south Berkeley and were approached for money the very
first night we'd moved into our house.
I am inconsistent myself, struggling with liberal guilt (I am so
much better off than so many) on the one hand, and anger at being
pestered and scammed on the other hand. Not to mention worrying
about my child being exposed to ugly sights (a drunk vomiting
next to the tot playground at Willard Park, for example). I feel
real irritation at being solicited every single block when I walk
up Telegraph and parts of Shattuck, but sometimes I buy Street
The situation at our home has become so bad that we finally have
a policy not to give money to ANYONE who comes to our door. I'm
thinking of putting up a ''No Soliciting'' sign in case that helps
When I first started college at Berkeley eons ago, I gave money
to everyone who asked, but then soon realized that I myself was
a starving student. So, I didn't do it unless I felt, in my own
way, that the person/family really needed my one or two
dollars. I also found other ways to help - I donated food and
clothes. A friend of mine worked at a bakery and I made it a
habit to give away the bread that didn't sell for that day. I
found out quickly that many homeless people, even with children,
did not want GOOD, FRESH (baked that same day) food - they
Now that I'm older, I choose the organizations I want to donate
to each year and know that I am helping the most if I am
consistent with this. We also volunteer when we can.
As for beggars on the street, I still only give when I feel the
person/family really needs it. I am partial to the elders and
to families. Others may differ, but I have a very hard time
giving money to someone who looks like they are in their 20's,
strong and physically able. I have worked since I was 15 years
old, and it is hard to see young people begging on the streets,
esp. when they wear Doc Martens ($100.00 boots).
I say to most panhandlers, except a few I've known for
years, ''Not today, sir/ma'am,'' and am usually (not always!) told
something like, ''Thanks, have a nice day,'' in response. In fact,
some panhandlers were incredible sweet and courteous to me back
in the days when I was visibly pregnant. The rude ones I try to
ignore. One possibility is to donate instead to some local
organization like BOSS (http://www.self-sufficiency.org), who do
excellent work helping homeless people get back on their feet.
I've explained to my young daughter that I give money every
month to such organizations, because they use it in a structured
way to help as many people as possible. But I would never give
money to people who knocked at the door; they tend to be scam
artists. (Beware anyone on the street or at your door, however
well-spoken, who claims to have lost his/her wallet and needs
BART money to get to work.) And, yes, a ''No solicitors'' sign on
your house does help.
I had two comments about your post. First, the ''No Solicitors''
sign on my door seems to have no effect. Second, about liberal
guilt. Believe me, I have loads of it, but not really about the
panhandlers I encounter in my neighborhood (gourmet ghetto.)
Why? Because these same panhandlers have been working the block
for years. They commute in, for crying out loud. Whatever you
think of panhandling, do you really think it should be someone's
full-time job for years??? I don't feel guilty about not giving
them money AT ALL!
As far as what I tell my kids - well, they're still quite young
so I haven't had to explain it much. I try to lead by example,
so I'm polite, I say ''hi'' back, and then when they ask me for
money, I say ''Sorry, no.'' That's it.
When I've had to explain it to my older visiting nieces and
nephews, I just tell them that since you don't know where money
you give a panhandler goes - perhaps to food and lodging, but
also perhaps to drugs and alcohol - you are better off giving to
a charity that cares for homeless people. And then we follow up
by actually writing a check to one of these charities. I think
I'll do the same with my kids when they're old enough to
We have had a policy of not donating money at the door for the
past few years and are very consistent about applying it, even
with organizations that we really support. I think it is a
perfectly legitimate way to deal with solicitations at your
door, which unfailingly occur just when you are trying to feed
I don't think it's bad to talk to your children about
homelessness when they are 5 or older, but I'd stay away from
talking about explaining mental illness at that age, since it
can be quite frightening to a small child to know that adults
can be ''out of control'' the same way children sometimes are. We
have a professional accountant friend who for years has taken
her now 8-year old daughter to see a man who is homeless - and
who happens to be her ex-boyfriend. They go once or twice a
year. She feels it is important that her daughter knows that
people face different situations in life.
As for Willard Park, we are at the tot lot there just about
every day and it is rare that something happens there. If you
see things that are really not ok, obviously you should notify
police, but it may also be helpful to notify the Willard
Neighborhood Association, so that neighbors right there in the
area become aware of the problems and can start doing something
about it. Feel free to email me as I am on the Steering
Committee for that neighborhood association.
You don't really distinguish between political ''solicitors'' and
the destitute and needy, so perhaps this wont be at all helpful,
but... I was a canvasser for a political organization in the bay
area for almost 10 years and, depending on the circumstances, I
would ignore signs about half the time. The work I was doing was
not just asking for money (I assumed that's what those signs
meant), but I was also heightening awareness about an issue,
encouraging the sluggish to write letters about an issue they
cared about, etc.. What I found is that most of the time people
didn't refer to their sign, sometimes they'd point to it and shut
the door or some other not friendly/ not hostile thing and,
rarely, they'd flip out... I don't know if a sign would help scare
non-political folks away, but you may well discourage some really
excellent political organizers off your step and miss out on
getting (more) involved in something you care about. You could use
a peephole in the door and just don't answer if you don't
recognize the person or you don't feel like engaging w/ someone on
your doorstop. (And, by the way, if you give money to a cause that
you care about at the door no one draws a friendly cat or ''this
way to ''guilty checkbook liberal'' on your sidewalk, so a blanket
''no money'' at the door may deprive some truly right-on and
genuinely grassroots causes of needed support especially in this
time of an increasingly creepy right wing rule and baffling apathy
I am struggling with how to explain injustice and homelessness to
my (now very young) kids. I think I'd probably say to my daughter,
were we to see a vomiting person, that he/she was sick. I haven't
thought to explain in a more ''global'' was yet, so I'd be
interested in what folks have to say.
I have very mixed feelings about panhandling and giving money to
panhandlers on the street, but my feelings are quite clear about
people who come to my door looking for money. No effing way.
It's simply too dangerous an interaction. When I lived in the
Oakland flats, I started out soft-heartedly giving money and
yard work to people who came knocking at the door, only to
discover that the same people came back whenever they needed a
fix, which was sometimes at 3 in the morning. Word gets out that
you give out money, and pretty soon there's a crackhead
convention at your front door. That's just not okay when kids
might be at the door or even answering the door. So I have a
blanket policy -- no money goes from my hands to another persons
hand on my front step. If it's a political cause that I support,
I ask for an envelope and tell them I'll mail it in.
This is a tough issue. I feel much the same as you, guilt,
wanting to help, wanting to protect my kids, wanting to educate
my kids, wanting ''them'' all to go away.
Here's what I do....I never(almost never) give money to people
on the street. Sometimes I ignore them (I hate doing that) or
more often will say ''not today, sorry!''
I have a ''no solicitors, please'' sign on my door and I politely
say ''No thank you,'' to phone solicitors.
I also donate whatever we don't need anymore to homeless
shelters, donate money to various local soup kitchens and
organizations to help those in need. My husband volunteers once
a month with a group from our synagogue at the Souper Center in
I believe that donating money(or food or clothing) to an
organization that will help many is a lot more helpful than
giving a small amount to one person.
When my kids (8 and 12) ask questions I try to answer honestly
I hope this is helpful. It's a sad reality of our society and it
wasn't like this, nearly to this extent, when I was a kid
growing up in NY.
I expect that you will touch a nerve with many people with your
post, but I am one of those who feel that the quality of life in
Berkeley (in particular) would be much better if there were not a
culture of supporting panhandlers. I believe that we should work
to eliminate poverty (and the substance abuse that goes along
with it) through our institutions and changes in our economic and
political system and not by offering handouts to people on the
The line between mugging, scamming, and panhandling is not always
clear. I have felt very threatened when approached aggressively
by a large man on a quiet side-street who wanted ''bus fare'' and
seemed determined to get it. I have also had people whom I
greeted with a smile respond with a shaggy dog story about how
they lost a bus ticket or were robbed etc. and need money to get
home. Running the gauntlet of panhandlers who attempt to attract
attention with false flattery or friendliness is unavoidable when
going to the post office or video store, etc. The quality of
relations between people in the community is damaged when one has
to suspect that any person offering a friendly greeting or
approaching with a smile is likely to be looking not for a friend
but for a handout. And that's the most benign aspect of the
situation. Vomiting or defecating on the street or in the
playground (some parks are essentially unuseable) is even more
destructive. The support of someone's drug habit (and thus drug
trade in our city, which leads frequently enough to murder) is
one possible outcome of giving out cash on the street.
If we don't give panhandlers money, the poverty does not go away,
but it will not go away if we do, either. And the panhandlers
will keep it up as long as they get support. We need more
conscientious and thorough approaches to ending poverty and less
self-consoling yet ultimately destructive hand-outs.
People who show up on your doorstop for handouts should be
referred to an agency that can help them and given a city bus
ticket to help them get there.
disgusted with panhandling
I do what I feel like doing in each individual situation- I give
or don't give help, a quarter, a dollar, even five, ten or twenty
dollars, depending on what I have, how flush I feel (I am far
from rich) and how the person strikes me. I do always try and
look the person in the face and say hello and acknowledge them
and say ''not today'' if that's all I have to give. But sometimes,
like everybody, I'm just too overloaded with outside input and I
look away. And on occasion when a person has been aggressive and
obnoxious, I have asked them to please get out of my face.
Sometimes if I'm near a food place and a person is asking for
money for food, I'll ask them what kind of sandwich and drink
they'd like, and go get it for them. Doing this makes me happy.
My feelings are not so much from liberalism as from a ''there but
for the grace of god'' perspective, having been through some
pretty rough times myself. Dunking briefly into the can of worms,
I'll say that I think that in general people are overly afraid of
homeless people, and tend to get judgemental about other people's
I have been influenced in my feelings by Jon Carroll (SF
Chronicle columnist) and his yearly Christmas season column on
giving in the ''Untied Way''.
Here is the link to his 2000 column:
And here's the link to 2002's:
I haven't lived, like you, in a neighborhood where my door was
regularly knocked on. Since you're asking this question, I take
you to be a caring person, and I'd just suggest thinking
creatively and compassionately about this situation you're
confronted with- take care of yourself and give help in whatever
way is right for you.
Children are very compassionate creatures, and however you speak
to your children about it, please try not to quash their natural
generosity of spirit with undue fear.
Instead of giving money to panhandlers, I give money to charity.
I don't feel good about providing money for drugs, alcohol, etc.
But I do feel good about giving to a free health clinic, food
Your message struck a deep chord. I bring my 2.5 year old in his
stroller several blocks every morning from the Transbay Terminal
in SF to my office. On the way we see people sleeping on the
street, in tents, in cardboard shacks. So far we have not been
hassled, but I contemplated changing my route so as to minimize
any exposure to these folks. Then I decided that unless I feel
harassed, I will continue to walk this route. I feel like these
folks are in a sense my teachers, with a role of making me notice
my own reaction and my child's. I'm striving to model the most
appropriate reaction I can. But it's hard. It's uncomfortable.
And if I felt unsafe, I wouldn't walk this route. Wondering how
others will respond. Signed,
Putting My Best Foot Forward
I, too, am approached often in the Berkeley area. I usually
give something, but I definitely don't do it all the time.
However, coming to my door would be out of the question for
several reasons. One, safety; and two, if you start doing
that, people will be coming non-stop because word will get out
that your house is the house... So, with my children, I
explain that some people don't have a home and are hungry and
my 7-year old is a very compassionate person so she will
usually insist on helping them. But, I have been taken
advantage of where I will give money to someone that says they
are buying food and then they leave the restaurant with no
I have started helping in other ways - give them an old coat
or blanket or give them food if you feel compelled to help.
Hope this helps...
I had similar conflicted feelings on this issue. One solution came to us when
our child's 1st grade teacher (at a Catholic school) brought this issue up in
class. My daughter came home with a solution after this discussion--''Mom, we
don't have to give to everyone we see on the street. The better thing to do is
give to groups that help give those people food and clothing and a place to
stay.'' The school also has the class make regular trips to make donations to
places like soup kitchens, etc. so they see what goes on there and the
opportunities for giving, volunteering. Clearly these trips don't have to be
made with school--you can go with a scout troop, on your own or with a
As for the disturbing sights of vomiting, yelling, violence, etc., it is a
I've introduced the topic of mental illness, drug and alcohol addiction, and
importance of being loved as a child, bit by bit, as the kids have gotten old
enough (I think) to absorb certain aspects of it. But it's still difficult, I
If it helps your guilt any, you should know that the City of
Berkeley spends MILLIONS, yes, it's true, on homelessness, and
that's why there's a problem here: people come here
disproportionately because there are more services offered than
in other cities. So, when people ask you for money, refer them
to the City of Berkeley services, of which there are many.(your
tax dollars at work).
Tim in Berkeley
It's really difficult to find middle ground on this issue. Many of us DO
have the ''liberal guilt'' you mention, but we also don't want to feel
manipulated. It's kind of a matter of giving because you really want to -
but discovering how and when to want to so that you still feel positive
about your generosity.
Currently, I feel pretty good about my practice. I'm lucky enough to be
able to spend a few hours a week volunteering with an organization that
serves many homeless people, which really helps me feel like I'm
helping the community. I also try and make a habit of giving away
change that isn't devoted to a bus ride or a snack or something.
Sometimes I'll give away big chunks of cash - it totally depends on my
mood and how cash-rich I am at the moment. There are a few
neighborhood regulars who I try and give consistent donations to. As far
as phone and door solicitors, I always ask for paperwork because I
never give donations at the moment. I just tell everyone - it doesn't
matter who you are, I'll only write a check to an organization I can take
time to know more about. And I'm consistent with my donations. If a
canvasser needs the percentage, they just need to write their name on
the envelope or donation slip.
It's really really hard to say ''no''. But I truly believe that if you're
bad about giving, you should say no until you find a way to feel good
about it. Also, no matter what you say, it helps to look folks in the eye
and see them as people. Sometimes they'll tell you that ''sorry'' doesn't
buy them coffee [which is another way to give] but I've found that most of
the time, if I treat people with respect, they do the same for me.
good luck -
I just wanted to gently take issue with the person
who said that, as a political canvasser, she ignored ''No
Soliciting'' signs because she wasn't just asking for money,
and what she had to say was more important...
For me, this really sums up some of the worst of Berkeley. If
someone has asked not to be disturbed at home, it is
completely inappropriate to take the attitude that they don't
mean you, because you are ''special''.
If what you have to say is really important, perhaps leaving
information at the door, or in the mailbox -- or ASKING if you
might ignore their stated wishes would be appropriate.
Assuming that people don't know what they want is rude
Like many others who wrote, I refuse to do any business, or
listen to any political message, or hand out any money at my
door. I don't have a sign up, yet, but if I did and a
well-meaning political canvasser came to my door, I'd surely
be one of the ones who exploded.
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