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Door-to-Door Sales, Panhandling, and Solicitations

Berkeley Parents Network > Advice > Parenting, Families, & the Community > Door-to-Door Sales, Panhandling, and Solicitations


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Calling the police about solicitor?

March 2008

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 family.


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. anon
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. Suspicious Mom
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. Anon
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. Good luck.
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! Michelle


Fundraising scam for Berkeley High School

November 2006

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 years.

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
BUSD Parent


Young man insisting he needs access to our backyard

May 2006

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 Kim
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


Kids going door to door selling magazines

Dec 2005

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 $290 check.

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. anon
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. Ginger


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: http://www.parentwatch.org/ 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. Ginger
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. Anon
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 guilty. 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 loves them. Jill


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 scams:

http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/conline/pubs/tmarkg/magzn.htm

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/08/17/AR2005081700684.html

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. kukana
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 commission.

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. anon


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. Been burned
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

How do you deal with beggars/solicitors/panhandlers?

Sept 2003

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 Spirit.

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 at all. anon


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 wanted money.

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). anon


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. Melanie
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 understand. anon


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 the baby...

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. Good luck! W


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 about same.)

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. M


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. nelly
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 Richmond.

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 and simply. 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. anon


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 street.

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


Hi- 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 misfortune.

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: http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/chronicle/archive/2000/12/27/DD186660.DTL And here's the link to 2002's: http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/chronicle/archive/2002/12/16/DD215896.DTL

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. anon


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 bank, etc. anon
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 food...

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... Lena


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 to 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 friend... As for the disturbing sights of vomiting, yelling, violence, etc., it is a toughie. I've introduced the topic of mental illness, drug and alcohol addiction, and the 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 admit. anon
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 feeling 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 - Jean


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 and inappropriate.

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. Heather


Stranger at the door - calling police

March 1999

The following happened to me recently, and I thought it would be worth posting to this list in light of past postings regarding peeping toms and men trying to break into homes. About 5:45PM recently, a man came to my door and knocked. I saw him through the peephole, didn't recognize him, and asked who it was. He replied, "the phone company". I was immediately suspicious because a) he used a generic name for the company; b) we hadn't called Pac Bell; and c) he wasn't wearing a uniform. There was also no sign of a utility truck anywhere. I demanded to see his ID. He said he didn't have any on him. I asked him what he wanted; he muttered something about waiting for me outside, and then left.

10 minutes later I left to pick up my son. I checked the neighborhood for utility trucks and saw none. When I got back with my son, I decided to call Pac Bell. I couldn't reach a person to speak to and noticed that their customer service office closes at 5:30. I then called the Berkeley police, partly to find out if there had been similar incidents that evening, but also to document the encounter. The police, and then my husband when he heard about it, said I should have called the police right away, in case the guy was still in the neighborhood and could be questioned. He could have been in the neighborhood on legitimate business of some sort, and just happened to notice a lone woman getting out of her car and going into the house, and saw an opportunity.

There are three reasons I'm writing this: 1. To let people know that the Berkeley police are willing to follow up on well-founded suspicions, even if no crime was actually committed.

2. To let women who haven't heard of this type of attempted crime know of this type of pretense for entering homes. Arriving after a business's closing hours is part of the tactics--you can't call the company to find out if they're who they say they are.

3. To advise the woman who wanted to move from her apartment in Oakland that no place in Berkeley is safe from people trying to break in. In her case, I'd advise her that no matter where she lives, she should make sure her door has a strong lock and peephole at her height. (When we moved in, we installed a second peephole after I complained about the height of the original one).

Other advice: All utility company workers and city workers carry ID -- or at least they should. Always ask to see their ID if you have any reason for suspicion (eg, if they show up unexpected). If they won't show ID and they don't look like they're from where they claim .... don't bother calling the company in question, just call the police (just the regular number, not 911 unless there's a crime in progress).


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