Are you relatively new to this bustling metropolis? Don't be shy about it, everyone was new to New York once upon a time, except, of course, those battle-hardened residents who've lived here their whole lives and Know It All. One of these lifers works among us at Gothamist—publisher Jake Dobkin grew up in Park Slope and still resides there. He is now fielding questions—ask him anything by sending an email here, but be advised that Dobkin is "not sure you guys will be able to handle my realness." We can keep you anonymous if you prefer; just let us know what neighborhood you live in.
This week's question comes from a New Yorker who is worried about the welfare of a child in the custody of a panhandler.
Every day, there is a woman who sits near my office building with a sign in front of her asking for money. Lately, she's been joined by a very, very young baby, which she cradles as she asks for money for her and the child.
It's been so hot lately and I've noticed that she and the baby—BABY—are out there literally all day. I don't doubt that this woman and the child need help, and I don't write to you regarding any issues related to homelessness per se, but... a child that young shouldn't be out in the heat all day, right?
Should child services be called? Is this something the cops would handle but just haven't yet? Or is this kosher because the child is with the (assumed) mother and no one wants to send another kid into the system?
-Hot Child in the City
A native New Yorker responds:
Dear Hot Child,
You should call 311, the ACS hotline at 800-342-3720, or, if the child seems in immediate danger, 911. What you should not do is give the "mother" of this child money, as she is participating in an organized begging scheme, and placing in danger a child who may not actually be hers.
Take a few minutes to read NBC's solid investigation into the "panhandling moms" grift; they detail how this group of nine women coordinate their work, occasionally swap kids, meet up for lunch, and take the C train home to the same building in East New York.
According to the homeless advocates NBC interviewed, the women refuse offers of shelter, food, and government services. Some of the babies appeared to be lethargic—either from being drugged to keep quiet through a panhandling shift, or just from exhaustion and exposure.
It is very noble to be concerned for the poor; as a society we do not do nearly enough to help our fellow citizens who have fallen on hard times. We cannot, however, afford to direct our already limited resources to people who aren't genuinely needy. A good rule of thumb is if you see the same person panhandling day after day, they're treating it like a job, and your money would better be used helping others. Be charitable, but don't be a sucker.
Some of these women have said they are immigrants, who do not qualify for services. Don't believe it. NBC reports: "City officials point out that undocumented parents are able to receive some government help including emergency food and that if truly impoverished, their children who are likely citizens born in this country, are entitled to cash welfare regardless of their parents' immigration status."
There is an unfortunate ethnic angle here, which is that many of the women in this group appear to be Roma. Over the years in New York, the Roma have been linked to fortune-telling scams, home repair cons, various insurance frauds, etc. Like many oppressed ethnic groups, a small portion of their community took up these pursuits over the course of generations to survive in cultures which treated them with disdain. Most Roma are upstanding citizens who resent the reputation this small group of criminals gives to their people, who have a rich culture stretching back thousands of years.
In any case, this group of panhandling moms is small, and can easily be dealt with through small changes to current laws against panhandling with children and endangering the welfare of minors. The police made their first arrest earlier this week, and if they keep the heat on, my guess is these ladies will move on to less heart-rending grifts as the weather gets cooler.
As with the desnudas in Times Square, some bad actors in the media will try to make this out as another example of De Blasio's New York going down the tubes in an apocalyptic shitstorm of filth and degradation. Don't believe them! I saw these panhandling moms around at the end of the Bloomberg administration, and it's a con that's been worked for years and years in other cities. Nine grifters in a town of ten million says absolutely nothing of importance about the state of the city.
Instead, let's use this opportunity to meditate on the welfare of all indigent children in the city, particularly the ones in the 13,985 families sleeping in shelters tonight, and applaud the significant moves the city has been making to improve their lives. That's where our focus, and the focus of our local media, should be right now.
Ask a Native New Yorker anything via email. Anonymity is assured.