Baby on Board.

nyc subwayNot too long ago, I wrote about panhandlers on the subway. A passionate and incredibly thoughtful discussion ensued. (Seriously, read the comments and behold the wisdom of the internet.)

My point of view was that I just can’t help it. Especially around the holidays. I feel like people who need help, need help. And there are times that I am equipped to give help. But something’s changed lately. Something beyond the increasing humidty in the NYC transit system and the ensuing increased grumpiness of NYC transit system passengers.

Lately I’ve been seeing a lot of women walking from car to car, panhandling.

They all have babies in carriers.

The first time I saw it, I was moved to tears. I simply can’t imagine the agony of having no choice but to spend your days on the smelly subway with a newborn, hoping for some money for diapers or food. It gives me pause when you think how many women spent weeks (weeks!) debating whether a stupid magazine cover headline undermines our self-esteem.

I wonder whether a woman with no home and no food and no legal source of income believes she’s “mom enough.”

But I digress.

The next time I saw a mother panhandling with a very young baby sleeping on her chest, I also felt compassionate, teary, needing to help.

But in the last month or so, I’ve seen no less than a dozen women, each traipsing through the moving cars carrying newborns, all wearing the same weary, glazed look, with a similarly stilted speech about needing food for the baby and how hard it is to be doing this.

My giving has slowed.

Something seems…off to me. Mother’s instinct?

Several days ago, one of these women walked through a car and two passengers across from me grew visibly angry. Red-faced and nearly shaking, one of the women said loudly enough for anyone who would listen, “that disgusts me. That’s sick! That woman should be arrested for using her child like that!”

I realized that her outburst echoed something I was feeling deeply buried in my heart, for better or for worse.

Then, I thought about comments like this one from Bon Stewart

in our culture, the narrative of “the deserving poor” carries a lot of weight. and when it comes to homelessness and panhandling, it invites those of us being asked to stand in judgement of whether someone is deserving enough…i decided i couldn’t judge based on whether THEY were deserving. to me, any person deserves to be acknowledged, treated as human.

Or this one from Jaelithe:

What’s worse: to be suckered out of a dollar or two by a con, or to walk right past a hungry homeless person, warily clutching the cash you’ll later spend on a latte you don’t actually need?

And because I’m a contrarian from time to time (just to keep me from completely collapsing into lemming-like yuppiedom), I looked squarely at that red-faced angry passenger, then pulled a five dollar bill out of my bag. The same cost of a vanilla latte I’d pee out 30 minutes later.

“Oh bless you!” the panhandling woman said with more feeling in her voice than I thought her capable of. “Bless you, bless you.”

But still, something didn’t feel right about it. My head is spinning with theories, some admittedly absurd. I’m wondering if these young women are really mothers. I’m wondering if they’re borrowing babies. I’m wondering if they’re being put up to it by some nefarious, evil men in their lives, Slumdog Millionaire-style, taking turns with one or two real babies to garner sympathy. I’m wondering why, now, should a rash of panhandling new mothers find their way into the subway system? Then, I’m wondering if something significant has changed in our shelter system that has sent so many legitimate mothers out to beg all at once.

Is the panhandler helping or exploiting her baby? Does that 3 month-old baby deserve to be with her mother no matter what? Or does she deserve the chance at a better life, not one spent trying to sleep through deafening screech of trains in a windowless, airless, cavernous tunnel?

And, if so, who am I to judge what would constitute a better life? (Even if we might all agree that this particular one is less than ideal.)

I am wildly conflicted here. What say you, oh wise internet?


Thanks Huffington Post for including this in Parenthesis: the best of the parenting blogosphere. I’m right honored.


107 thoughts on “Baby on Board.”

  1. I’ve seen people I know who are far from homeless or hungry panhandle. I’ve seen a guy beg for money, but refuse my offer of food.
    I’ve seen a guy with his hand out and then creep around the corner and get into a brand new Mercedes and drive away.

    And still. I think I’d rather give and get taken every once and a while than regret not helping someone when I was fully capable of doing so.

    What’s the old saying about regretting the things you don’t do more than the things you do?

  2. This is a hard one. I have a hard time coming to terms with how desensitized I’ve become to this. In Mexico, the alcoholic fathers send their hungry, dirty children to beg for money, only to take it from them to buy more alcohol. Sometimes, the children have babies strapped to them. In the case of children, I always try to give food before I give money, but in the case of adults, and adults with babies…I never know what to do. Because, holy crap….(followed by everything you wrote in your post). In the end, I usually give something if I have cash, because who knows what I’d see if I stepped in his/her shoes…

    1. Yes, saw this in China. Small children sent out to beg. I would worry that the money I give is contributing to something sinister, rather than helping a poor mother and her baby. I mean – women with babies do qualify for a variety of governmental help – so why resort to panhandling? I agree with you it seems weird that there is suddenly a huge quantity of women doing this.

  3. Okay, let me try to get this out without sounding a fool, because I feel this same type of conflict, and I think there are many more of us, too.

    I think we make assumptions about the homeless and panhandlers. Why are they there? Are they hooked on drugs? Did they fall out with the law? Are they mentally ill?

    Any of those could be true, or none of them could. But I think the best way to help is not to hand out a dollar or five when someone asks for it, but to give to charities that are actively working to help remedy this exact situation. This is not to say that you *shouldn’t* hand out money if you feel so inclined, but I don’t think you should feel pressured, either.

    To feel disgust, though? I think that is unfair, as it is when we show it to anyone that doesn’t walk in our shoes, to use a terrible metaphor.

    I saw a couple walking along a busy road the other evening. It was about 7:30, nearly my kids’ bedtime, and this man and this woman looked unclean, and possibly even drunk, as they pushed a baby along the road. I felt disgust then, even if I know it’s not fair, because there was a baby involved. I wanted to cry, to beg my husband to turn around and go rescue that poor child from that life he/she is bound to live.

    But that’s not my child, and it’s not my life. That baby may be safe enough, happy enough, loved enough. There are so many things in this world that are out of our hands. If it makes us feel better, less guilty, to hand out cash, then I think that’s okay. But I also think it’s important to be honest with ourselves about how much that may actually be helping.

  4. Thank you for asking the questions. And bravo for acknowledging the discomfort and Janus-faced feelings about it. Few people are without conflicted feelings about issues like this.

    First: I can’t blame the person who got angry; I’ve felt similar annoyance when I’ve seen young, seemingly healthy 20-somethings lounging with signs asking for help. I don’t know their story or journey, but I create one that suits my prejudice about what I see. And the subway is NOT a great environment for anyone, let alone a tiny baby. Coughing, screeching brakes, lack of fresh air, blahblahblah are not great long-term environmental factors for babies (or anyone). And if you have seen a rise in this, I’m sure others have too – and it brings out all sorts of “icky” feelings that are only heightened when we add children to the mix. She may be very generous in other situations, or she may know that WIC is available to this woman – which the woman herself may not know.

    Second: I’d probably still give someone a couple of dollars regardless of my wondering all the same things you mentioned. I can afford it – I’ve just given up wine, so there’s an extra five or ten a day (dollars not glasses). Spread the wealth!

    Third: Of course the situation exploits the baby, just as (the collective) she is exploiting herself. I’d hope, at least, that the child is her own. But it’s nothing new to use children for all sorts of things because they seem more needy, less scary, and they are just so darn cute.

    When I see panhandling, I judge it based on a lot of things. My mood, my small bills or change, her/his attitude (sorry, but being nasty doesn’t encourage me), and various other completely subjective issues. I’m sure the red-faced woman feels the same way.

    Something more tangible might be to print out forms or at least a page of WIC offices to carry with you. That way, you can give the $5 AND the opportunity to get substantial help.

  5. I’ll admit to having never seen this, although I see pregnant women with signs often. I wonder though…is this any worse than the alternative, which is likely hooking?

    This economy sucks and there isn’t a lot out there for a single mom with no skills and a newborn. The truth is, that even with a job, daycare is exorbitant and maybe those women just can’t afford it? Maybe they’re on wait lists for support. There is no way for any of us to know.

    I suppose for me, I’d go with my current stand-by. When I have it to give and I feel moved to do so, I give with no judgement. The rest of the time, I just plain ignore.

  6. I’ve been seeing a lot more of this too and it makes me sad and mad and confused-for all the reasons you wrote. Granted our city does not have the greatest shelter system, but it does have one. And there ARE agencies to help. I have a hard time believing that taking an infant on the subway to panhandle is the solution. And yet…what if it is?

    It’s heartbreaking because either that IS the solution or it isn’t and that baby is being used.

  7. I’ve always been conflicted about this. But I give, because whether the person uses the money for good or not, my action was intended for good. And many times, I question whether I just bought a junkie’s hit, but I also hope that perhaps my generosity might help to change a person’s heart because they think, “Someone cares about me.”

  8. I wonder if the sudden influx isn’t from people’s unemployment benefits finally running out. I read that the deadline is looming and there will be A LOT of people with nowhere left to turn. What do I know…I’m a Canadian & a bleeding heart Liberal…the only thing I know is that when I look south to the US and see all that is happening there – the lackluster economy, the shrinking middle class, the joblessness – it makes me really, really sad. On a trip to Bellingham last year, I saw a woman begging for food for her children on the side of the road and I gave her $20. My husband balked a little, but only until I reminded him that we’d just spent over $500 on school clothing for our kids, two meals out in sit-down restaurants and we were driving home to a safe place with a pantry full of food (also, it was an American twenty. It would just sit in a jar for months doing nothing until we went back to the States. It was better spent helping someone).

    I often give money to people on the street. My attitude is that I don’t even care if it IS for booze. We all deserve some pleasure in life and if alcohol is the only thing making someone happy, who am I to deny them that?

  9. I had to come back to add something.

    Those of you talking about help? From the “system”? It’s not always as simple as walking in and asking for it and then getting it.

    I’ve been on the other side of it this year, and let me tell you, you don’t just walk in with your hand out and get help. There are hoops to jump through and paperwork, omg, the paperwork. And even then it’s ridiculous. An almost month wait for an appointment to even see if you qualify for help. In the meantime, your utilities might get shut off. And they won’t help you faster unless they actually DO get shut off. Which to me seems like a ridiculous way to work things.

    So I can totally see where a single mom, already beaten the hell down might not have it in her to go through all that.

    1. In that case, avoid the red tape, figure out the person’s story and help them yourself. By “help”, I am talking about tangible things including helping her with the paperwork required. Money is the worst thing to give to homeless people because it is only a quick fix that keeps them from seeking true help. People who are literate and who have a basic understanding of how the world works don’t realize how much help they can be to someone who is homeless. Often, people who are homeless don’t know the first thing about services available to them, and all it takes someone like us, with a computer who reads things like blogs, to guide them.

      There is a volunteer program in my hometown, and the only thing it does is help homeless people get some form of identification (drivers license, etc). You need an ID to get a job and a place to live. Something so basic like that is so very useful and creates “real” change. We have all have IDs, and we all can help someone with something so basic like that.

      1. With due respect Sally, I can’t buy the argument that “Money is the worst thing to give to homeless people because it is only a quick fix that keeps them from seeking true help.”

        That sounds like a classic 80s-era GOP talking point to me. It’s too basic and too broad. Not all “homeless” can be painted with one single stroke. As AvasMommy describes, it is very possible that there are homeless people seeking “true help” while simultaneously trying to cobble enough quarters together for a box of discount diapers.

        A quick fix doesn’t negate a long-term solution. And giving directly to a woman who seems to need it doesn’t mean we can’t also work on the bigger issue.

        Read Backpacking Dad’s comment below. It’s mindblowingly insightful.

        1. It’s not a 80s-era GOP talking point because it emphasizes the use of social services. It is what those who work with the homeless urge us to do. Giving money is … giving money, which can be used for drugs or diapers. Giving diapers is … giving diapers.

          I know that all homeless people are not drug addicts and that so many social services are in need of work, but people who are homeless are at a point in which they need real help, actual help from human beings. When giving the individual cash might hurt their cause, then why should we consider that to be charity? Is it because we don’t sacrifice of ourselves enough and handing someone a few dollars makes us feel like we have “sacrificed”?

          I read Backpacking Dad’s comment, and I think it is wonderful. I just do not think of $5 as charity because it isn’t a sacrifice for you and because that $5 can actually make that individual’s problems worse. I believe that true charity is to give of yourself, your time, your skills. In order to make a real difference in someone’s life, you need to make a true sacrifice, which I don’t believe is the $5 that would have purchased the latte you peed out. The $5 may have helped someone’s grumble in their tummy, but it did nothing to anything alleviate the cause of their homelessness.

          I’ve found this npr recording that resonated with me several years ago. This is the former CEO of the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation on why she does not support panhandlers: .

          Also, here is the article in Slate in which the mother/daughter combo discuss it.

          1. Thanks Sally. I appreciate the thoughtful response. I don’t think that there’s one or the other. I think I can look at a human being in need and help them in the way I can at that moment, and I can simultaneously work, as I do, with charitable organizations that are effective at channeling resources towards social good. For what it’s worth, you and the father of my children up there, are in total agreement.

            PS I love the line in the Slate piece that says be honest with yourself that your action isn’t really about ending homelessness—but more about reinforcing shared humanity. That sums it up for me perfectly.

    2. AvasMommy: The system is difficult to navigate, that’s absolutely true. And it shouldn’t be “as simple as walking in and asking for it and then getting it.” I work with people who receive assistance, and I know firsthand how frustrating it can be. However, it’s important to also provide information about that option. And help to navigate it when that help is needed and/or wanted.

      I’m sorry you’ve gone through such frustrating times this year, but please don’t discourage people from going through “the system.” For many, it’s all that stands between starvation and life. Many, many people don’t have the physical ability or mental capacity to ask for money on the subway or anywhere else. It takes all pieces of a village, even the ones filled with reams of unintelligible paperwork.

  10. A mission of charity is different from a mission of social change. Missions of social change are guided by the head, plotted, planned, assigned greater or lesser worth according to the principle of equality being deployed. Utilitarian social change movements are judged according to whether they stamp out poverty for the greatest number; deontological social change movements are judged according to whether they stamp out a particular evil (child abuse; drunk driving) as well as possible. There are goals, rules, measuring sticks. The head determines the value.

    Charity is an enterprise of the heart. It is not social change. It is not supposed to be social change. Charity is, at its best, the identification with another human being in their plight, and a recognition of your own life, your own good. You see you as you blend your lives together; you try to imagine what would make you feel good in that moment. You feel your way to identity. You empathize.

    Charity does not compete with social change, though sometimes when we call organizations “charities” we confuse the difference. We think of ourselves as participating in charity when we give to a “charity”, and then when we assess other, personal acts of charity we devalue them because we think “charity” is judged according to success and not according to identity.

    Charity is never a failure when it is committed by an individual who identifies with another individual. Charity makes the world smaller. It doesn’t matter if you are being conned: that is a failure in a social change movement. It can never be a failure in a charitable act. A charitable act can only fail insofar as it is not genuine (and it’s hard to imagine a non-genuine charitable act; robotic, programmatic handing out of dollar bills? Maybe not even then.) It can never fail for being ineffective at achieving some goal other than identifying.

    I support charities as social change movements. I also give money to people with whom I identify when I imagine myself in them. I can’t give to everybody, but that has never stopped me from giving to anybody. Because charity is not about making a difference. Charity is about making a similarity.

    1. Oh my God Shawn, you’re smart. I’m going to use this. If I can remember it. Or maybe you need to send me a recording of you reading it so I can just carry it around on my iPhone and hit play.

        1. I just wanted to say I’m copying and pasting Shawn’s words into a file on my laptop to read and reread and save forever because it is DEAD ON and completely clarifies the issue for me. So, thanks.

          1. Right?
            I love when discussions like this help me figure out what’s in my own head. You all are amazing, thank you.

    2. My priest recently spoke along these same lines. That charity, the giving is judged a success by the intent. It was given for good regardless of whether it is used for good, you have warm fuzzy feelings while giving, or if it caused social change. He said that in giving, we give of ourselves (or our future lattes) and that creates change for the better in us. That is why Christ asks us to give. Regardless of whether you believe in God or not, that idea that giving changes us and that is its basis of charitable success is a pretty cool idea.

    3. I was going to comment because you quoted me and all but really, I find myself at a loss to add much after what Shawn wrote.

      Charity and social change — both good things. A++

  11. I am a bleeding heart liberal, living in the poorest city in the country, but I don’t give anything to panhandlers . . . on purpose.

    By giving people money, you are enabling them to continue to live on the streets. Whether it is drug addiction, mental illness, alcoholism, abusive relationships, or just bad luck, people living on the streets often need help for things that can’t be solved by a $5 bill. There are resources for people in need, and it is best to steer them towards those resources than to give them money. Several years ago, my city government even gave people cards to give panhandlers (in lieu of money) that had lists of social services.

    Money will satiate their hunger for the time being, give them a quick fix, but that just allows them to stay on the streets and not face the underlying issue. I have a friend who gives money to a homeless shelter for each panhandler she turns down. If everyone who gave money to panhandlers actually gave money to the organizations that strive to solve the underlying issues that cause homelessness, those organizations would have a lot more resources and there may, actually, be less homeless people.

    I, too, have been confronted by women carrying babies asking for money. Do you really think the money you gave her will be used for formula or diapers? By giving her money, you are hurting the baby because you are encouraging the mother to continue to live on the streets. You may be funding a drug habit or even just encouraging the mother not to seek help b/c she can “get by” by panhandling. What would really help the child would be her mother seeking help and providing a stable environment for the child. We all know it sometimes takes people reaching rock bottom before they seek the help they need. People who give money to panhandlers are adding fuel to the cycle of homelessness.

    In the future, give vouchers for homeless shelters (I know some in my city will sell them), tell her you will take her to a shelter or battered women’s shelter, provide formula or diapers for the baby, suggest social service organizations that can help her. Better yet, find out her story and see if you have any resources that can help. Sometimes the problem of homelessness can just be solved by getting a drivers license. If she needs to get to Kansas to see her sister, buy her a bus ticket.

    Give something that would actually help people; money only hurts.

    1. In this country there is no place for people who have no money and have mental illnesses. I am not talking about people capable of holding down and job and a place to live. Those people? Need a little help and in general they can find it, but it takes time. The women with babies on the subway? Maybe their time just hasn’t come yet. Maybe they need a little help to get by until the next month.

      In truth the majority of people on the street are people with major mental illness. There is no support for them. None. No places that help. Nothing. Churches and shelters are over run with people. Giving them five bucks though? That does help them. It’s real tangible help. It gives them a meal and that keeps them alive another day.

      1. I have to agree Issa. I doubt that many mothers are looking for “encouragement” to continue living on the street with a newborn.

  12. These things come in waves. People use what works and Liz, as a seasoned improv vet like yourself you should know it’s all about heightening the stakes. Won’t give money to a homeless guy? how about a homeless guy with a dog that needs food? Don’t care about dogs? how a bout a homeless girl? The shock of that wears off? how about a homeless family? that doesn’t work anymore? how about a homeless woman with a baby? I can only imagine what comes next (you’ll remember in improv the ultimate heightening tool is “on the moon”)…

    There ARE lots of people who need help but there are also lots of people who are more than willing to use their baby as way to take advantage of people who are willing to give money illegally on a subway.

    I’m sure more than a few of these “homeless moms” go home to their apartments with a few hundred bucks in their pockets while some genuinely need the money. The bad ones prey on your good conscious the way republicans prey on Nationalistic and religious fears.

    If you’re willing to say “my need to feel like I helped someone this way is more important than the law, even though there’s a good chance I’m being taken advantage of” then by all means continue to give money of the subway.

    I’m with the other people who say give money to charities that help mothers with children, and I continue to be more than willing to give money to panhandlers that chose not to break the law by panhandling on the subways… It’s a gut call, but it sounds like your gut is telling you you’re being taken advantage of in someway, and you are sometimes, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t feel good to help a con artist, that’s why they do it…

    Meanwhile there are lots of families struggling that haven’t chosen to break the law that genuinely need our help, and there are plenty of charities that could use the money to help the ones who aren’t con artist in a less humiliating way then to subject their children to the indignities of begging that would be better served if we gave to them instead…

    1. Thank heavens you posted so I don’t have to!

      I’d just reiterate “because it works.” It’s like marketing, really, isn’t it? This is the newest hot thing in advertising, just on a very small scale.

      I give as much as I can to local charities and national and international ones. I vote for candidates most likely to do something about these issues.

      But I don’t give on the streets. I say I’m sorry about it and I like them in the face, but I don’t give on the streets.

      1. Uhhh, I LOOK them in the face. Thank heavens I didn’t badtype “lick.”

        That seems unduly assertive.

    2. I know well how you feel about the illegality of it, and I agree that’s a good point (as we discussed on the last post).
      But I don’t see it as giving money to a con artist. I kind of feel like, if things are that bad that that’s what you are willing to do for money, then you do need it. For better or worse. Con or not, I doubt they’re going home to their Park Ave apartments and putting the cash in a high-interest 529 for the kid.

      Also, I thought the ultimate improv heightening was meeting God. Or was that just jPod.

      1. I’m just saying if YOUR gut is telling you something (you’re the nicest, most trusting person I know) then maybe there’s more to it than all of a sudden a bunch of similarly aged and ethnicity girls with young children and babies suddenly all became desolate at the same time.

        Not to be crude, but how is begging for hundreds of dollars on the subway that much worse then some of the grueling soulless jobs that we see “these people” (for a lack of a better term) doing? I’ve often though of my job as waiting tables as glorified begging (“hey, remember when I brought you that fork? Can I have 20% of the check for it?”).

        I’m not saying it’s an easy choice to make, but not all of the women are homeless, and there are certainly smart enough people out there that will/do take advantage of this feeling to help that we’re all expressing having. I’m not saying ALL of them are, and it sucks for the ones that really do need help, but there are thousands of con artist out there that aren’t going home to Park Ave. apartments, but are certainly going home somewhere, and the subway is one of the easiest places to find “marks”…

        1. I guess I’m just saying I’m not a mark. I give consciously and with intent, with eyes wide open. I don’t think that any of these women aren’t needy however, in whatever way. My questions really were not about the ethics of giving to people on the subway. It’s something deeper about mothers and babies and who’s being used and who’s being helped and really, whether it matters at all.

          I know where you stand though!

          And I’m glad that I’m the nicest person you know. Though that may not say a lot for the people you know…

  13. Often I feel as though I am being taken, but I don’t care. My dad taught me to always give. When we would travel to another country, he would get a lot of change and small bills and hand it out as he saw people needing it.

    Do I think it is a bit of exploitation walking with a baby? Probably. But, in reality who is going to watch that baby if the mom cannot really afford diapers?

    I think we also need to give more to the places and services available to these moms. Ironically, tonight I am hosting a small fundraiser for the local women’s shelter. I cannot tell how many times over the winter I called the shelter looking for an open spot for someone. Sometimes getting someone linked up with services is as good as giving them money.

  14. We moved from New York (not in the city, but I did spend more than enough time there) to India so I know exactly what you’re talking about. The sad reality of life in India is that women (and men even) do use children to beg. The first time I stepped off a plane in India, I was mobbed by women (at 4 am no less!) with sleeping babies begging for change. Unfortunately, this is an income source for some people. Our way of coping is donating money to an organization that works to help women and children, rather than trying to figure out who is genuinely in need and who is just trying to make some extra money. I never saw it in New York. I’m inclined to say that there are resources out there in the US for young mothers that need help.

  15. When I live in a small southern California beach town–the homeless and panhandlers were everywhere. I very rarely gave them money–sometimes I would buy dog food for their dogs and a sandwich for them. If I could, I would give to anyone, but I can’t judge who is deserving and who isn’t. I can’t give $ to each person who asks. I am skeptical of the stories of those in parking lots of being stranded and needing money for gas, etc. I rarely give in those situations.

    One night I had to explain this to my children. We were sitting outside eating dinner one night at a local restaurant. A woman came up with her child, who was about 4) and asked for money for food. I didn’t have but $2 (as I rarely carry cash) but did offer to buy her and her son a meal. She wanted the cash. So my kids asked why I didn’t give her any money–they saw themselves in her child. I explained that I didn’t have enough cash to help her buy a meal. I also explained that there are so many people who don’t have enough money or food to eat. That it would impossible for me to help everyone so it makes me feel sad.

    When were walking to the car, we saw two street musicians playing. I dug my $2 out and had the kids give it to them. They asked why they were different from the lady with the kid? I couldn’t exactly answer. I hate to say, I gave it to them because they didn’t ask, but maybe that is part of it.

  16. First of all, I totally wrote a post that involved the debate of ‘to give…or not to give’ a couple weeks ago. (Not linking to it, just saying I definitely feel you and have been thinking about the same thing lately.)

    Second of all, I live in NYC and also have seen a sudden onset of women with babies in carries asking for money on the subway. It struck an odd nerve in me right away. My gut/skeeviness-dar were telling me something was off. Exactly like you said, I thought of SlumDog Millionare and of gypsies in Europe and of nasty, horrible men raping women or stealing babies and then forcing young women to carry them around in order to bring back cash.

    In the past few years I have been working on being less skeptical and jaded (AFTER moving to NYC…kind of ironic) but something about this particular situation really doesn’t feel right. I don’t think you were wrong to think of that as a possibility. Maybe it’s the sudden high percentage? Or a certain look on the woman’s face? Or a disconnect between woman and baby? I have no idea. But I DO know that women – and mother’s in particular, perhaps – have a sixth sense for these things.

    Now I just wish I knew what we could do about it….

    1. Oh thank you so so much for commenting. I really needed to hear this. I thought, am I the only one noticing this? And what’s weird about it?

      I wonder if there’s a reporter willing to follow these women home and find out the real story. It’s a story, don’t you think?

      1. I went to college in Chicago- the U of C, which is in a neighborhood surrounded by neighborhoods that at the time were quite poor (this was the early 90s). At one point, there was a sudden increase in young women begging for money for food/diapers for their kids. The kids weren’t usually present. Some intrepid reporter did follow some of the women home, and discovered mostly no kids, but big drug habits- this was the early 90s, so the drug of choice was crack.

        I never gave to those women, mostly because I didn’t have much extra money at that time, even though I was obviously heaps better off than they were. But finding out that they were lying didn’t make me feel any better about the situation, really.

        Now I have plenty of money. I find I give more often, although not always. Last time I was downtown (jury duty!), I gave $20 to a young woman who claimed to be pregnant and trying to get money to eat before catching a bus home to her home town, which weirdly, happened to be my home town- and there is absolutely no way she could have known that. I don’t miss that $20 at all. It seemed like the right thing to do.

        I also don’t find myself wondering whether or not she was lying.

        But I do wonder about the woman I drove past one day, standing on the corner on the way out of my neighborhood with a sign saying she was fleeing an abusive relationship and needed money for a bus ticket home. I didn’t give her any.

        I also wonder about the older man who came to my door when I was home on maternity leave, wanting to do odd jobs for money. I didn’t let him.

        I still think I made the wrong call those times. I give more- far more- to the charities that try to fix the larger problems. But sometimes, there is just a person, standing in front of me, who needs a little money to try to solve a problem in their life, and I am standing there in my expensive sunglasses and with the accumulated effect of all the good fortune I’ve had in my life… and it just seems wrong not to share.

        1. Isn’t it interesting how those single moments, those people, those images stay in our minds? I think it’s a sign of our humanity that we take the time to notice. And as others have said, that we acknowledge, even if we don’t give.

      2. I completely agree that it is worthy of some research and a story! But who knows the right reporter for the job here? I don’t think I know any reporters in NYC, come to think of it….


  17. I give. And I curse when I don’t have any singles in my wallet, or when my wallet is in the back of the car where I can’t reach it before the light changes.

    A friend of mine put it this way: “I would happily pay higher taxes to see that the homeless people have food and shelter. My government hasn’t made that a priority yet, so this is my increased tax.” There are problems with that argument, taken literally, namely that money given to individuals is rarely used as effectively as money given to an organization to care for that individual. Still, I agree with the sentiment expressed by my friend, and I give.

    You want to talk about raising the stakes…. I’ve spent a few years in a country where children of people who have no employment opportunities are maimed in order to increase their begging income potential. At 30% unemployment in that country there is little chance that the child will actually have a better chance earning money. So I give, knowing that the crippled child before me may well be crippled on purpose.

    Because at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter that this person may have made bad decisions in the past, and found herself addicted to drugs, or to drop out of school and get pregnant, or do something to find herself in prison, or stay in an abusive relationship. It doesn’t matter because at the end of the day, the decision that most likely makes me different from her is that I chose to be born to two well educated upper middle class parents, whereas she did not. This means that when I make the same bad decisions she does (and I’ve certainly made many) I have a social and financial buffer that will keep me from begging in the streets.

    Parental economic well being in this country is still the leading indicator of a person’s economic well being as an adult. So I withhold judgment and give. What they will do with the money, or why/when/how they beg is not for me to say.

    1. Except doesn’t your giving to that child actually endanger other children? If you make money by crippling your child, you or other people will cripple their children in the future.

      Giving that money to an organization that takes in those mothers and children would seem much more likely to prevent this from happening in the future, on the other hand.

  18. I like the C.S. Lewis quote, when his friend reprimanded him for giving to a beggar, “He’s just going to spend it on beer,” Lewis replied, “That’s what I was going to spend it on.”

    1. That’s perfect.

      I say trust your instincts, give when you are moved to give, and recognize that the only life you have a right to control is your own. Even the laziest and most stereotypical person asking for money on the street (or subway) has no less right to self-determination than I do or you do.

  19. My struggle with this topic began about 30 years ago in LA, when our family put on our Sunday best and headed into Downtown LA to attend my cousin’s wedding reception. Now, my cousin came from money, like private jet money, but we were your typical middle class family–we drove a Buick :-). Anywho, as we were crossing the street to enter the hotel lobby, a group of about 6 very angry homeless men began screaming and shouting at us for not sharing our “wealth” and cursing at us for having nice things to wear, etc. It scared the living shit out of me. My parents tried to explain to my 7th grade self (and my younger siblings) that some people are not healthy in the head, but all I could think (and still do, actually) is that my dad went to work every day and earned what we had, it wasn’t a handout.

    Now I am older and understand that without an address you can’t get a job; addiction, mental illness, etc. compound the problem. But when I see a seemingly healthy 20-ish year old kid on the side of the road, and I offer him a free burger at Carl’s Jr. (I buy 50 gift cards a year for this purpose) and it’s REFUSED because he just wants cash, I get bitter. And then I put all of them in a bucket of worthlessness (unfair I know).

    However, I do volunteer with the homeless veterans’ association here in PHX to try to help. But I have a hard time giving money anymore. I’d rather do versus hand out cash (which, by the way, I rarely have extra of), especially if the offer of food is turned down.

    Gosh, that still makes me angry and its been months! Who wouldn’t want a free Bacon Cheeseburger? 😉

    1. As others have said, I also see “homeless” seemingly healthy young people who seem to make hanging out on the street a lifestyle choice. I also feel resentful of them. Of course I don’t know their stories but have read quite a few. It’s not “indie” to beg for money. For others it’s survival.

  20. The best panhandler line I ever heard was in the NY subway. A man said he wasn’t going to use the money for drugs. He went on to explain that he didn’t do drugs, never had done drugs and didn’t ever plan on doing them. Then he paused and said, “I drink a little.” Everyone gave him money!

    There was a homeless man a few blocks from me who always sat in the same spot. I’ve had financial problems this last year(s) but one day I brought him a breakfast from McDonald’s. Then every time I walked by him after that I felt guilty that I wasn’t buying him something. Eventually I took shortcuts to avoid him, or crossed the street. I felt ashamed each time I did it. Then one day I saw him smoke a cigarette and thought “Well if he can afford cigarettes why am I upset about not giving him money?” Not my finest hour.

    A few months ago he died, sitting in that same spot. Many in the neighborhood stopped at the makeshift memorial set up for him and we all thought the same thing, “If only we had done more.”

  21. What amazing responses. It’s an indication of how we all wrestle with these issues. I remember walking down the street in Sarajevo watching in awe as our friends gave money to every Roma who asked. Sometimes they stopped to talk, sometimes they just put a few coins into the woman’s or man’s or child’s hand. No word was ever spoken about it, and yet it formed an indelible image in my mind-a reminder that we are our brother’s keeper.

    What I want to know is what kind of society refuses to provide for all of its citizens? What sort of country stratifies us by class and tries to dispose of those it devalues? And where is the public discourse? The public conversation?

    The women on the subway are the shadow side of us. They are reminders that without warning we might be next. They are what we keep hidden even from ourselves: that being invisible is a curse a society bestows upon its neediest. Otherwise, how would the rest of us know that we’re even alive?

    When your girls ask you what you did in the war, Mom101, what will you tell them?

  22. I try to look at giving as something I do just as much for myself as for others. It’s not about them, or whether they are deserving, but about me and whether I feel moved to connect with them on a human level and give of myself.

    Sometimes I don’t feel moved to help and sometimes I really can’t, and I don’t. But when I feel moved to – even when I also have small doubts about what they’ll do with the money, if they are really “deserving”, etc – I have never regretted giving. I have EVERY time regretted not giving when I felt moved to do so, though.

  23. I have nothing useful to add. All I know is it hurts my heart.

    Thank you for asking such good questions and getting a thoughtful and tough discussion going.

  24. I tend to give.

    When I was working in a customer service capacity (my favorite job ever! Not!) I began using a mantra in my head when I knew a customer was ticked. I would say to myself: “I don’t know what has happened to this person in their last minute, hour, day, week, month, year, decade, life. Meet them where they are right now – in front of you with a problem.”

    At a restaurant in downtown Seattle I saw a woman panhandle right outside the window for one hour and make more than $100. So, yeah, that leaves you with an uh-oh feeling, certainly. Still, I’d rather err on the side of help. Meet them where they are right now.

    1. Karen, I love your line of thinking. I think of that too, on the web.

      “Meet them where they are right now.”

  25. It does pull at your heartstrings but I would be worried that giving to moms with babies would lead to a proliferation of moms with babies begging, because they figure out that it works. Whatever the circumstances of the one mom at that moment, by giving you could be encouraging a trend.

    I try to give to charities that I’ve researched instead and tend to focus on ones that help needy kids or single moms. I sometimes offer food too, although I once gave my own carefully packed lunch to a homeless guy only to see him toss it in the garbage as I walked off. He could have at least declined to take it, because I was hungry!

  26. I donate to charities who provide services to homeless people and those who support homeless/battered/destitute women and children; I give cash when I have it; I often offer to buy folks begging a meal and 98% of the time, they turn me down because they want cash. The 2% are usually very good people to whom very bad things have happened.
    We have so much and it is SO difficult to decide if someone is truly in need or just scamming. I don’t know what I would do if I were faced with the subway mothers such as you were.

  27. This post and all these intelligent comments reminded me of this excerpt from Mother Teresa:
    “People are often unreasonable, illogical and self centered;
    Forgive them anyway.
    If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives;
    Be kind anyway.
    If you are successful, you will win some false friends and some true enemies;
    Succeed anyway.
    If you are honest and frank, people may cheat you;
    Be honest and frank anyway.
    What you spend years building, someone could destroy overnight;
    Build anyway.
    If you find serenity and happiness, they may be jealous;
    Be happy anyway.
    The good you do today, people will often forget tomorrow;
    Do good anyway.
    Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough;
    Give the world the best you’ve got anyway.”

    I really can’t say it any better than that.

  28. Last time I was in NYC, I forgot snacks for the Child and ended up purchasing an entire box of Nutragrain bars.

    Every other one of those bars went into a homeless cup. I know they want cash, but at least this is something that if they are not hungry at That Exact Moment, they can easily hang onto it and eat it later.

    I have the problem of a sheltered, suburban, inquisitive child: “Mommy, why are they asking for money? Why are they so dirty? Why are they dressed funny?” etc. The lesson I would like to teach him is that we give what we can, what they need. If they choose not to receive, then it is not our fault.

  29. I am going to email this to my husband. We have different versions of this conversation many evenings at home, always ending with some version of “just give.” He works as the manager of a large SVDP thrift store that provides free furniture and clothing through vouchers to needy people in the community. They also provide free twin-sized airbeds and playpens to families who were recently homeless and found a shelter or family to move in with. In our wealthy mid-west college town something like $40,000 worth of new airbeds and pack-n-plays went to people just arriving in our country, just getting off the streets, just evicted, whatever – in only the first four months of the year.

    My hubby was raised by his mom without much financial support from his dad – he has memories of the electricity getting shut off, scary landlords pounding on the door, things our children will never experience.

    In contrast, I backpacked through Europe during college. When I was swarmed by begging kids everywhere I remember thinking that I was vacationing in someone’s personal hell.

    I just hope those little babies have at least a pack-n-play at the end of their day…if your $5 got wipes instead of it coming from a non-profit that was targeted specifically to help their (fake or real) mother I don’t think it matters. And I don’t think you’re spawning a new sub-industry of panhandling with the de-latte-ing of your day either. Thanks for a great read!

  30. I am a giver. Always will be. BUT, when it comes to seeing people on drugs who still have custody of their children, my heart hardens over like a hardened thing. These people have every right to take drugs if they want to, but no right to then keep their kids.

    Period. No buts. Ever. I’ve been to too many rehabs, seen too many fucked up mothers dragging their children around.

    See all this judgement I have around this? I have to have it … because if I don’t, I will make it ok for me to use drugs and think I could keep my kids.

    In this instance, I’d give food instead of money.

    1. I agree completely Eden. I would hope that addicts could get help, and in the meanwhile, find a better situation for their children until (and if) they are able to take care of them.

  31. How to address surface symptom with surface solutions?

    I think that we all have to be aware of slippery slope that pan handling is. As someone already mentioned, starts as poor guy in poor clothes, moves onto poor women, poor girls, families, now babies… and yes, it escalates into battered kids with babies and (yes, seen that) cut off limbs. Why? Because it WORKS! I would never give money to encourage this kind of behaviour, NEVER, period. I think my satisfaction on feeling “helpful” or “generous” or “charitable heart” can be saved for occasions where downside of making wrong choice is not so detrimental to those same kids I’m trying to help with quickie 5 dollar bill. And first question I always ask myself is not about whether I’m being conned (that does not matter much, we are being conned every day with every ad we see or hear), but if I’m doing this is really helping someone. Or is getting them even deeper into vicious cycle of asking for more and being more drastic about it. Sorry to say, but NY subway pan handling is naive compared what is coming down the road. Do I want to see mother with baby with fingers cut off next time and wonder if my “help” contributed to that behaviour? Knowing what downside is of making wrong choice, do I have proper information to make (at least partially) right choice? Look of the clothes? Smell of unkempt baby? Is there anything in their behaviour, looks, eyes that will help me avoid making that one wrongful choice that is going to cost some kid somewhere his limbs? No, there is none. So I steer clear of lose-lose choices.

    Yes, I’ve shared my breakfast with down town pan handler for a year. Yes, I’ve given clothes to every pan handler hidden behind “wash-your windows?” begging. I’m tipping in restaurants for any kind of service. And picking up puke of my elderly neighbour that I just met month ago. And I always vote for more taxes, more social services. 5 dollar late is easy sacrifice, how about 5 a month? Or 5 a week, every week until for the rest of the life? How about 100 a week? Yet, over and over again, when budgets come to pass and every vote season Americans are only concerned with tax cuts to help mid-income families and businesses. It seems that everybody is busy reducing social support system so they can retain money for themselves, so they can give tiny crumbles of it to panhandlers themselves. Because they feel “charitable”. I really have hard time understanding that modern-time oxymoron. I always felt that money should be put where it would be of long term use for betterment of group, not where it would temporarily lift only one person and give me aura of “helpful”. But that is just stupid “communist” me.

    1. “Do I want to see mother with baby with fingers cut off next time and wonder if my “help” contributed to that behaviour?”

      Wait…are you suggesting/saying that mothers are cutting the fingers off of their babies in order to be more sympathetic beggars?

      that never. ever. ever. ever ever ever… would have even occurred to me. which is making me think maybe I just need to stay in my small town where I am not regularly confronted with such ugliness, because apparently I am not equipped to deal with it properly.

      And…yes, I said upthread that I’ve always thought giving (in these scenarios) is more about me than “them” because I can’t possibly know what anyone else’s true motives or needs are, only my own. NOT because I want to feel good about myself. But, I admit, I am now second-guessing my urge to try to help without judging.

      1. Meagan, I’ve heard about things like this in incredibly impoverished places like India. I have yet to hear of a US mother so desperate (and in so much competition with other beggars) to get to that point.

        I’m sorry but at least in the US, I can’t make a reasonable leap from giving a dollar on the subway to being responsible for a woman disfiguring her child. Or that NY panhandling is moving “down the road” to the extremes in other countries. Thank God.

        1. Phew! Okay, I agree that this seems like a huge leap but I wondered if there was something everybody else knew that I didn’t. I had heard about that situation in India, now that you mention it, but it wouldn’t have occurred to me to think it was happening here.

          And I hope my comment didn’t come across as anti-big-city or anti-NYC. I know ugly things happen everywhere, even in the tiniest, “safest” small towns. But poverty and need tend not to be as in-your-face here, so when I go to a larger city it can be overwhelming to have it suddenly everywhere.

  32. so much to ponder here.
    Like you, I do find myself conflicted at times but nevertheless if I have a couple of dollars in my pocket I give regardless of the individual. I then think of my younger brother who is somewhere out there…god knows where…homeless and I hope that he is okay.

    1. I hope so too Laura. Good reminder that those mothers on the subway are still someone’s child.

  33. I would be giving them money too, no matter if they were “using” the baby or not. Obviously I still have MORE and can give some help. But it does still leave a bad taste in my mouth to think that maybe they are using the baby to get money not for food, but rather for their “smack” habit…

    This world is SO hard sometimes…

  34. When I was right out of college in 1990, I worked for a very important law firm in DC. On of the younger partners did the coolest thing – he carried a bunch of $5 metro cards on him and a bunch of business cards that had all the names and addresses of the local homeless shelters on them. He never gave money, but the metro card was a big deal. No one ever turned it down, and most of them took the shelter information too. I have always meant to find some way to recreate that, but I never have. I mean to go and get a bunch of $5 gift cards to CVS or a major grocery chain, but I haven’t. Maybe this will get me to pick some up this weekend. Thanks for making me think. (I usually give because I feel too worried if I don’t. Except when I don’t give, and then I feel defensive. Ugh.)

    1. That’s an amazing idea Lizneust. What ever happened to that partner? I bet he’s super successful now. (Or super philanthropic.)

  35. The subway can be a dangerous place especially for children and babies. That is why I never let them out of my sight

  36. We just can’t judge for ourselves. If you can give, give. I have a friend who is college educated, made some poor decisions and literally can not afford daycare (she can’t receive assistance because she “makes too much”). She’s not on drugs, just married a guy with two other children and backed up child support.
    I send her hand-me downs, I sometimes send money. She isn’t on a subway begging but really I don’t think it takes much to put you over that edge.
    Your posts are always thought provoking. Thank you.

    1. Thanks for this Betty. I think you’re right…it could be any of us next. Even those least likely.

  37. I’m so cynical, I think most of those people are not who they present themselves to be. In need, yes, (why else would you spend your day begging for money from people who despise you?), but not being honest about what those needs are. This is rooted in personal experience. I still remember, years ago, giving money to a blind veteran sitting with a sign in the Montreal subway. On my way home from whereever I’d been, I saw him with his cane under his arm, dark glasses pushed up on his head, counting change and running for a bus.

    Ever since, I’ve looked closely at the people in “prime” panhandling spots and have noticed the following: the same people show up at the same time every day, everyone arrives for their shift with a bag or backpack, water bottles, and coffee in take-out cups. They all are wearing clean, serviceable clothing, sturdy shoes and have tidy haircuts. It leads me to believe that panhandling at these prime locations is a profitable industry, and that the folks who show up to work there have the skills, commitment and ability to find work. Heck, they have work, with a flexible schedule and no taxes.

    It’s an industry that I don’t want to support, and takes money away from the truly desperate people. Why would you give money to the smelly unkept homeless man with no teeth when you could get the same good feeling from giving to the “out of work father, please help” at the intersection near the mall? It disgusts me, and frankly, I don’t like being played for a fool.

    That said, just the other day a woman came up to me in the grocery store parking lot and asked for money for food. I gave her $10, she thanked me with eye contact, and headed inside the store. She could have been fooling me too, but it felt right.

  38. Maybe I’m old and jaded, but I have mixed feeling about it. I work in the city and ride the train, so I get approached a lot and it seems more people who approach me seem…suspicious. Like the man who asked me for a quarter to ride the train recently…first off, the train costs more than 25 cents and when I told him I had no money (I honestly am too afraid to carry cash in some neighborhoods) he walked off an I noticed he was carrying a huge shopping bag that was jingling…and stuffed full of quarters! Or the man who was towing his wife and small daughter around the bus stops asking for cash. One bus rider offered to show them a shelter he knew of within walking distance that would give them food and clothing and both the man and his wife got testy saying they “needed the cash”. I could point out 3 or 4 other cases similar.

    What I learned from my hubs (who used to get panhandled a lot when he traveled to big cities)…if he met someone who he genuinely believed needed help, he would go to the nearest convenience store and buy a bunch of non perishable food. The he’d walk to McDonalds and buy a gift card. That way he could at lease ensure the person would have a decent meal or two. If the person had a pet with him/her (which they often do) he’d even buy a small bag of food for the animal. If you need a meal…you need clothes, I’m happy to help. I’m just leery about handing over cash.

  39. Do you know “Threepenny Opera”?

    I played Mrs.Peachum, back in the day– a hard-drinking old slag who, along with her sleazy husband, sold props to panhandlers so they’d look more heartwrenching.

    I’ve often thought that about the baby-carrier subway women.

    I feel bad– I never had the “Oh my God! How terrible!” response. Maybe this city took it out of me. I always thought it was performance art.

    Now I’m remembering Ani DiFranco, talking about the horrible things you can learn to do.

    I give my money to the musicians and dancers. If I give at all.

    1. So nice to see you hear Roo!

      So do you consider the gang of kids with the boombox doing bad breakdancing on the car and almost kicking commuters in the face…dancers? Or do they have to be real dancers?

  40. Wow, what a wonderfully thought-provking post and amazing comments!

    It is incredibly sad that women feel they have to beg – for whatever reason – to support their families. Perhaps it is because an abusive spouse is making them do it. Perhaps it is because they do not have skills or childcare which would allow them to get a traditional job. Perhaps it is because they have an addition they are trying to feed. It certainly causes us to pause and ask why they are doing it (although we may never really know) and then think about how they must feel getting up every morning, getting their child ready, and preparing for the barrage of insults they will certainly encounter as they go out and make their living. Begging is a tough way to make a living – certainly these women don’t do it for sheer pleasure (or ease for that matter).

    Call me naive, but as a mother I must believe that deep down all mothers (or certainly most) want what is best for their children. Why do we first think of the worst case scenario (oh, she must be a drug addict) and not something more likely and benign – she is simply down on her luck. I sincerely hope these mothers want what is best for their children just like you and I do. And, hopefully they realize begging is not a sustainable way to make a living and take steps toward ensuring a more stable future for future generations.

  41. We’ve been involved with community organizations and by far begging is not considered a viable or realistic way to make ends meet. We don’t give money to beggars, however terrible that sounds, because there is always a story behind it. I’ve been asked for money by a lady with a very convincing story, only to see her a few weeks later busting out the same line to a friend of mine. Not cool.

    I was born in the Philippines, and like most developing worlds, begging isn’t neatly hidden away from other classes—they are in your face, everywhere. We would always see these little children coming up to us while we were in our cars, holding up beautiful flower necklaces to sell, or sometimes just proffering their hands for some spare change. My dad told me not to give money to them because they are usually told to beg by begging “pimps” who then mistreat the kids and take the money. It’s in effect, modern slavery.

    Okay, granted I don’t think here are begging pimps in our cities (at least I hope so) but there is a sense of sleaziness to it. It just never feels right to me. Maybe that’s my educated mind thinking, “Just go to the shelter or a church,” but generally I keep my wallet closed.

    On the other hand, I had a friend who, when approached by a beggar who clearly looked like he was about to spend it all on beer, opened up his wallet and dumped out all the change he had on to the beggar’s opened hands. “Why did you do that?” I asked him. “He’s just going to go get some beer.” My friend replied, “I had to give him the benefit of the doubt.”

    So who knows. I’m sure there are truly needy people, but I still don’t think that handing out money is the way to solve it.

    1. I like the comment below..

      When asked, “isn’t he just going to spend it on beer?” the friend replied, “well, so was I.”

      Also read Backpacking Dad’s comment. I don’t think that people are trying to solve the issue of need with handouts. I think it’s more about connecting with humanity. At least for me, that summed it up pretty amazingly.

  42. I found this blog post after encountering a young mother doing this on Los Angeles’ Metro Rail. The first time I encountered one of these women, I gave her money and felt good about it.

    Then I read the account of a fellow LA transit rider, who in the course of taking four Metro trains that day encountered three different women using the same tactic.

    “On three of the four trains, very young women carrying babies in slings got on board with identical signs scrawled on the back of cereal boxes (Lost job, homeless, need money for baby, etc). They stood wordlessly in front of each passenger for 15 seconds and moved on. They were completely expressionless. I saw one of them get off the train and confer with another baby-toter who had been on a different car.

    The women were all pale and well-groomed and looked about 20, maybe Eastern European or Russian? Their babies looked quite healthy.”

    I’m not sure if the women you’ve encountered in New York are actually down on their luck and panhandling to survive, but the ones working the trains in LA are part of a coordinated scam.

    Either way, I enjoyed reading this post and wanted to share my experience. Thanks!

    1. The babies are always “sleeping”… actually drugged to make them look like they’re sleeping. You are absolutely right, they are part of a criminal ring and these kids are used the way some of us use a computer, just as another tool. I can’t believe this is so prevalent in the US. Where is the police??

  43. I didn’t read all the comments so I’m not sure if someone else mentioned this, but the NYPD is telling my security team to call 911 when we see these particular women; it’s apparently an operation run out of New Jersey, they meet in the mornings at Penn Station to get their assignments. Babies are divvied out to women in the operation who don’t have their own young children (so that everyone will be equipped with the sympathetic “baby in a sling” to maximize their profits). The operation rakes in 10’s of thousands of dollars and obviously breaks all sorts of child protective laws, not to mention tax laws, all the while taking the focus away from truly vulnerable homeless individuals that often have mental health issues and are not as visible as career pan handlers.

    1. Thank you so so much for this information. I can’t say I’m totally surprised.

      I mostly hope they find a way to get those children into safer situations.

    2. I posted a comment down below just before I read this. I had an idea that some are not holding their baby, the Godawful question is… who is the real mother of that baby only 3 days old??? my suspicion was confirmed when I filmed a girl. With that baby in hand she started hitting me and trying to grab the camera, she turned so evil as hell.

      1. I’ve also since learned that they are Gypsies. Are they evil? Or are they forced into servitude by men who beat them if they don’t bring back enough money.

        Mostly I’m concerned for the safety of the babies.

  44. I saw one of those women on the F today (with a very cute toddler) and was no more tempted to give money than the first time I saw this years ago. Maybe living here for more than ten years has just hardened me, but I don’t care if it’s a scam or not – I won’t give. I sometimes give to talented musicians, or men so out of their minds drunk or stoned or whatever that I figure my dollar can help numb them a little more before the inevitable happens. But these women…either it’s a scam, which I want no part of, or giving them money encourages them to keep at it. Either way, that’s no life for a child, and I want no part of it.

    I do give money to charities that help feed and clothe families. If these women are truly in need, they need to find that kind of help.

  45. Absolutely nothing wise to offer here. Only a small story. We live in a small farming community outside of a smallish-big city in Canada. To say my children are sheltered from the harsh realities is an understatement. In the summer we took them to NYC for a visit. Leaving the subway one day, we say a young women with a child in her lap, holding a sign that said “Need money. Anything will help.” Clutching my daughter’s hand a little tighter and feeling, yes, conflicted, I sped us up a bit. My daughter turned her head and kept staring. Then she turned to me and said “Mommy, is she selling her child?” I at once wanted to burst out laughing and crying. “No Honey, she’s trying to feed her child.” “Well, that’s not being very nice to her kid.” I was speechless, I had no idea what the right response was in this situation.

  46. Here’s the truth about these women with babies. First off never never again give even a penny.Instead LOOK at the girl. They all have new clean clothes on, earrings, there’s no trace of distress whatsoever on their face.Every girl is at the least chubby, so…enough food they have. These girls are criminals and the are evil. THey are part of organised crime and some or more or NOT holding their baby. The question whose baby is it? Your best friend who just gave birth? or your sister? or your boss’s wife?The girls are there to work on your emotions and doing so they make up to a 100$ PER HOUR!!! Yes that’s a fact number. Who makes that kind of money in NY? Only the VERY rich but not you and not me or anyone passing them on the train. I filmed one girl who was holding a baby that was jut a few days old. Immediately she got up and approached me beating and trying to grab the camera out of my hands. Doing she snapped all sorts of evil stuff at me in a different language unknown to me. That convinced me it’s not her baby. I was threatened and I’m afraid for my safety. AGAIN the only ppl who can stop this is us.

    1. Exactly! And everyone should be calling the police when you see these “mothers” begging. These kids are not theirs, and they need medical assistance and child protective services.

  47. The babies are on heroin or on alcohol and many die. Haven’t you noticed they never cry or play. They just dangle in the carriers or are always ALWAYS asleep

  48. This may sound shocking, but these babies are actually drugged (think heroin or alcohol) to make them sleep long stretches. Think of any small child you know. How many of them sleep all day? Most parents of toddlers that I know can barely go grocery shopping or brush their teeth without a tantrum. Now think of these babies you see with begging women. Also, most times, these women are not their mothers. These kids often die from overdose, so they pick up more abandoned or homeless kids to replace them. Instead of giving money, you should be calling the police. These kids need to be taken away from these criminal rings and placed in orphanages.

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