With the holiday shopping season now in full swing, more people with more money will be in more stores more often. Most of those people will be spending, but some of them will be asking for money.
The holiday season is also a time when people traditionally increase their charitability, which makes it an opportunity for panhandlers seeking to increase their revenue.
When shoppers are approached by someone seeking a handout, the encounter might be friendly, might be awkward or might be frightening, depending on the circumstances. . It’s not always clear how best to respond to solicitations.
A recent comment in a local Facebook group and the discussion that followed illustrates the difficulty. The original commenter noted that a panhandler he encountered in Homewood became verbally abusive when he didn’t receive any money. Others noted similar situations, but some people told stories about meeting people they felt were truly in need, and the chance to help them was gratifying.
In most cases, the encounter was routine and uneventful.
Abigail Ercoli reported being approached Nov. 1 by a man asking for gas money near the intersection of Halsted Street and Ridge Road.
“He was not threatening and kept a distance that kept me from feeling worried,” she said. “He was in the car with at least two other people. He also asked a number of other people for money.”
Susan Dudik reported a similar situation at a store on Halsted Street in October. In her case, the man not only kept his distance but offered reassurance that he meant no harm.
“As I was loading the back of my SUV with my toddler and infant still in the cart, a man called from several yards away, ‘Excuse me, miss, I know you’ve got your babies and I’m not going to come near you, but I was wondering if you had any spare change to give.'” she said. When she declined, he said, “Ok, have a blessed day,” and walked away, she said.
“I didn’t report it since I didn’t feel threatened,” she said. “Looking back, I wish I would have given him a buck or two.”
Homewood police receive reports of panhandling throughout the year, according to Deputy Chief Denise McGrath. All solicitors are required to register with the village. Panhandling is a violation of Homewood’s ordinance.
Calls might come in as a panhandler, a solicitor, a suspicious person or sometimes even a juvenile problem if there are younger persons involved, she said.
Someone suspected of violating the village ordinance can be issued a Municipal Ordinance Violation Enforcement System citation. Hearings for MOVE citations are held at the Village Hall.
“The offense for a MOVE citation depends on what specifically happened in a particular incident,” McGrath said. For example, a person who was previously warned not to sell candy in a store parking lot could be cited for trespassing in addition to solicitation without a permit. “Depending on the circumstances, aggressive actions could also result in a MOVE citation for Disorderly Conduct.”
McGrath offered advice for people who encounter panhandlers.
“When people encounter panhandlers in parking lots of retail businesses, it is best to keep as much distance as possible,” she said. “If possible, create a barrier between you (shopping cart, car, garbage container, etc.) and the solicitor to avoid any physical confrontation.”
She suggested contacting police through the non-emergency number or 911 if a solicitor becomes too aggressive or displays any other suspicious or inappropriate behavior. And that advice applies not only to panhandlers but to solicitors who approach residents at their homes, she said.
“At home, don’t open your door to anyone you don’t know,” she said. “You can contact the Village or the Police department to verify if a solicitor has a permit. Even a registered solicitor must adhere to signs posted by a resident that indicate ‘no solicitors invited.’”
She recommends residents have the non-emergency number programmed in their cell phones. Homewood’s non-emergency number is (708) 206-3420. The dispatch center’s non-emergency number is (708) 799-6834.
She also suggested notifying nearby store personnel about the incident and request that they contact the police department.
Panhandling is not generally considered a serious problem by police unless it escalates into other crimes, like robbery, theft or assault, according to the U.S. Department of Justice’s Community Oriented Policing Services report on panhandling, written by Michael S. Scott.
“Many people feel torn about whether to give money to panhandlers. Some people tolerate all sorts of street disorder, while others are genuinely frightened by it,” Scott said. “Most studies conclude that intentional aggressive panhandling is rare, largely because panhandlers realize that using aggression reduces their income, and is more likely to get them arrested or otherwise draw police attention to them.”
Grocery stores and gas stations are among the favored places for panhandlers, according to the report, because people there are already intending to spend money and might be more likely to spare some, according to Scott.
Panhandling, by Michael S. Scott (PDF file)
Contact Eric Crump at [email protected]