Sunday, October 17, 2010

Problem Panhandlers

A reader writes in about an experience today:

"I just had my second encounter with the most aggressive panhandler in Uptown... and she's like 100 years old! She got me a couple years ago in front of El Pollo Loco and again today at Wilson and Broadway. Her m.o. is, she comes up to the car, all 4-foot-10 of her, and bangs on the passenger window with her fist and tells me she needs money. I tell her no (feeling horrible because, you know, she's a little old lady).

Then she bangs harder, so hard that I'm afraid she's going to break my car window. I tell her no, more firmly, and pull the car up a few feet. Then she chases me down (damn red light!), grabs onto the door handle of my car and won't let go! All the time she's hanging onto the car, and she's shrieking, "Come on, let me in, I NEED MONEY!"

The light changes to green, and all the cars behind me are honking, and I can't drive off because I've got a hundred-year-old panhandler glued onto my passenger door screaming at me, and I'm yelling back that she needs to let go. I should have called the cops, but I was so completely freaked out that I didn't think of it until I got home.

I love Uptown for a lot of reasons, but this 'lady' was just bizarre, even for here.  The first time I felt really guilty afterward because she's an old lady, but twice with the hanging onto my car and screaming at me?  Too crazy."

We encourage all readers and business owners who can, to attend the panhandling seminar tomorrow morning to learn how to handle these kinds of situations.


  1. "I can't drive off because I've got a hundred-year-old panhandler glued onto my passenger door."

    Interesting (seriously) ... any lawyers or law-enforcement professionals in the audience? Does this guy need to acknowledge his barnacle?

  2. It's very simple. You should have called 911 and described the situation. That clearly describes aggressive panhandling and you should have let the police handle the situation. This person's actions could have caused a serious accident and she could have been injured along with innocent bystanders.

    Hope this helps.

  3. Dear reader, I find it very difficult to read both your story and Julie's response to it.

    First let me say that the Uptown area police, from what I understand, are trained specifically to handle delicate situations such as this. Julie's "let the police handle it" is probably wise to some extent.

    Second, having lived in the area for many years, "funny" stories like this have sustained me through difficult periods when I was forced to witness to a barrage of disturbing behavior. (not to mention also being a witness to criminal behavior from gangs and criminals who take advantage of this area's concentration of poverty and those with mental illnesses)

    Third, the disgust I have for the actions of opportunists who take political and financial advantage of the mentally ill for their own selfish gain is still fresh and raw. However, I also recognize that backlash of this can create the opposite set of problems.

    What troubles me most about both comments is not what is being said or even the spirit in which they were shared, but that they both remind me that as a society we have yet to find a way to fully integrate the mentally ill into the fabric of our diverse society.

    * We don't yet have the warm hearted "pink ribbon" support for research, treatment and services funding of mental illnesses.

    * There are still no cures for many, many mental illnesses, especially schizofrenia.

    * Treatments for schizofrenia are effective, but in the most severe of cases the disease itself prohibits the person from trusting doctors and the meds to continue taking them. IMHO, a cure is despearately needed.

    * Drug companies, as they are for-profit, are more likely to create treatments rather than cures for these diseases. Also, the societal pressures that forced people into institutions against their will prior to deinstitutionalization makes calling something a "cure" extremely risky. Who can be trusted, for example, to decide what mental situation requires a "cure."

    * The police - seen by many as the agent of incarceration - seems to be the only avenue to deal with the mentally ill. Why are there no other options?

    * Shame still seems to shroud families, freinds and persons with mental illness. There are no "Pride" efforts for this population but seems to be needed. I'm not sure a parade is appropriate, but something seems to be missing that would give the rest of us a cue on how to respond to the unique differences mental illnesses strike among us.

    Again, I'm troubled by these comments and what they force me to face: We still have a long way to go and I'm a witness to some of the incredible mistakes of the past. I'm either going to do something about it or the lessons learned will be lost when I leave this earth.

    Truth be told, the thought of being an advocate for the mentally ill is not high on my list of life ambitions. The superficial side of me says that it just isn't glamourous, hip, popular or fun enough for my taste. Wouldn't it be great if it were?

  4. Zesty, I understand the compassion and concern you're expressing about the mentally ill--and even though it's easy to jump to conclusions, people who do what Caring Neighbor was describing are NOT always mentally ill. I doubt that there is a single reader of UU that would not want there to be a cure for schizophrenia, but you know as well as the rest of us that while a cure for schizophrenia is a laudable long-term goal, we STILL have to deal with the immediate issue at hand: an unknown person walking up to your car in traffic, demanding money, damaging your car, putting people at risk and holding up traffic. If you found yourself in the same situation as Caring Neighbor, would you sit there wringing your hands over society's inability to provide adequate treatment for the mentally ill--while someone is bashing in your passenger window--or would you want to take immediate action to protect your property and your own safety?

    I've been there myself, with less protection--I used to drive a Jeep Wrangler with the soft half-doors taken off during warm weather, and once got approached by a group of 20-something women on Broadway while waiting for the light at Irving Park. One of them actually climbed into my passenger seat as I tried to edge away, and I had to tell her "You need to get the f*ck out of my car...NOW. BEFORE I turn around and head to the police station." *I* could manage to scare her out, but not everyone could pull that off. If you're caught in that sort of situation, you can turn the air blue by cussing the person out...your can pull ahead slowly when the light turns green and force the person to lose their grip before you slowly drive off...or you can call 911 and wait for a squad car to arrive. I don't see what other "wise" options there I'd be interested in knowing what sort of *immediate* responses there are that you think WOULD be wise. I'm not dissing you, but the issue at hand is not one that lends itself to planning a telethon to cure schizophrenia, if you know what I mean!

  5. Was this at Wilson and Broadway? I think I was behind you. (I wasn't honking.)

    I would just pull away, who cares? If you rip her fingers off she might learn a lesson.

    We have our own problems, we can't worry about solving everybody else's. It is more likely that she engages in this behavior because it works, thus reinforcing that it is ok.

  6. Kevin,

    I am a lawyer and you have a right to defend your property and flee from being assaulted.

    Running her over may be okay, but running her over and then backing over her to make sure she is dead probably isn't.

  7. I too had a panhandler reach his arm into my suv and grab my steering wheel at the red light on Wilson. I quickly hit the up window and when it crushed his arm he pulled it out and ran away. I pulled over to a police car 2 blocks away and I told him what happend. He said there was nothing he could do as he is long gone and unless he physically assulted me in my suv there was not much he could do anyway. I keep my large can of pepper spray in easy reach for the next one who reaches in for whatever reason. Thats my solution.

  8. There is a aggressive pan handler hanging around Wilson and Hazel and Windsor and Hazel. He has a semi Mohawk and gives this crazed look. I am def staying away from his cause that dude needs to be in a institution and not on the street.

  9. Bear 60640, I'm really glad you posted.

    If it were me in the same circumstances as reader, I would probably have yelled some obscenities at the woman, pulled away and then slammed on the gas.

    It's difficult for me to read Julie and reader's posts, however, without facing some serious soul searching of my own. It has nothing to do with what they posted or why. It has everything to do with who I am today, having winessed a barrage of disturbing public behavior and criminal activity day after day for years.

    It's tempting to give in to the frustration, but I realize that there is a horizon somewhere in the future that solves some of this dilemma once and for all.

    In the meantime you're right that I (and all of us) have to deal with today's reality, even if we are hopeful about a better future. I appreaciate your keeping some attention focused on today's immedate reality, as well.

  10. If it allows video recording, could someone tape the meeting and post it on youtube? I think most people don't know enough or care enough about the panhandlers population.

  11. I don't understand the confusion as to how to handle the situation. Call 911, describe the situation and let the police handle it. There are officers who have received special training to deal with these types of individuals. They are referred to as CIT officers, which stands for Crisis Intervention Trained.

  12. I like Andy's contribution to this post, it is the only one without a hint of fear.
    Panhandling can be a an intimidating issue to deal with for business owners who have to confront this on a daily basis.
    A lot of these store owners are also working long hours and a youtube video would be helpful.
    We could use any signage along the streets as like in Chinatown which say "NO Panhandling". Some even have an illustration, a nice touch. While signage won't solve the problem it will raise awareness of people who might give a little thinking it will help. In other words: law-abiding people are less likely to "hand-out" if they know its not allowed. The signs in Chinatown are directed towards the tourists and visitors more than potential panhandlers.
    Panhandlers are people with problems, a kaleidoscope of issues and illnesses too episodic to be covered in this post. We need to show our better and more charitable sides in reaching a better outcome for all.
    Be good everybody!

  13. The many posters who have suggested to "call the police," I completely agree with. However, who wants to pull over and wait for 40 min for someone to show up. That is exactly what could happen. I love the police and a lot of respect for what they do for the community. But given the rash of shooting in the area in the past several months, I kind of think an aggressive pan handler is not going to make it to the top of the list. Unless you have been hurt or your car damaged I would just pull away, and if you see a cop in the next few blocks pull over to tell him/her about it or bring it up at the next CAPS meeting. But I must say when I get caught by the light at Wilson and Broadway, I try to leave some room to drive away should something like this happen. Very dangerous place to be parked with the windows down even for 40 seconds.

  14. A Handy link on this issue, just the basic facts.

  15. My wife had an incident with an aggressive panhandler at Montrose and Broadway a couple of months ago. She was on her way to Target and stoped at the light. A shirtless cigarette-smoking man walked up to her car and started pounding on the glass near the driver. The man then got his face really close to my wife's and blew smoke at her. That would be bad enough, but we had our two very young kids in the back seat. The man then walked up to the window near my toddler daughter, put his face against the glass and blew smoke. She was terrified. My wife screamed and honked the horn. The man then very calmly walked up to the front of our car and put out his cigarette on our hood.

    This incident terrified my wife, and now she wants to leave the neighborhood (especially when combined with the shootings near Jewel and the Buena Circl Play Lot). It's one thing to deal with aggressive panhandlers as an adult, but another thing altogether to have one of these lowlifes purposely scare a young child. If I had been there, he would have been beaten severely with a shovel.

  16. I think people need to be more aware of their surroundings. It does not matter if you are in Uptown or in Downtown. There are always someone in our population who will cause trouble. The key is not to let yourself or your families to become the next victim. For example, if you see a group of questionable individuals approaching your direction, you may want to plan an escape route just in case. Take care.

  17. All of these situations should lead to a call to 911. If you wish to sign a complaint it would require you to stick around for an officer to respond. I recognize that we may not have the time based on what else is happening in the district. However, you should absolutely be calling 911 and describing the situation. If these individuals are harassing you or blocking traffic, they will still be doing it to someone else if you don't alert the police.

  18. bear60640...."approached by a group of 20-something women"

    I don't see the problem. Queue the B-movie music!

  19. Well? Did anyone attend? Was it worth-while? Post-mortem please!

  20. I attended this seminar. It was very informative and I learned a lot. There was a great speaker from the city's Law Department and another from the Cook County States Attorney's office. There was plenty of time for Q and A. I've been to a few similar seminars and I've always learned something new and different.