An investigation by NBC New York uncovered a group of women panhandling with their infants and toddlers are working together and refusing the city’s outreach services.
At least nine women and their children commute to Manhattan together, split up and then beg for money in New York City’s subway system and on the streets of midtown. The women all live in the same building in East New York, Brooklyn, and sometimes meet for lunch.
Though most women were unwilling to talk to reporters, one woman spoke up when asked about her daughter, who sounded sick.
"She has a cold,” she said. "What can I do? I don’t have a job.”
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Panhandling with children can be surprisingly lucrative. Passerby Gayapri Reddy gave one of the women $2.
"She was with a child," Reddy said. "She’s hungry.”
The women can collect several donations per minute.
Social service workers say the women have refused shelter and other services because they’re just seeking cash.
"This is a scam - a business,” said George McDonald, who works with a nonprofit organization that helps homeless people. "It’s a group of women who trade off the same children. They work in shifts. We have a network of service providers who would help them if they wanted help, which they do not."
One woman admitted to an undercover reporter that she was unemployed but not homeless.
According to ACS Commissioner Gladys Carrion, the police have not filed any complaints about child neglect related to the group of women this year.
"It really is disturbing that no one would think of calling that in," Carrion said.
Karen Freedman, who works with Lawyers for Children, was also concerned. "This is some sort of exploitation at some level,” she said. "The question is: Is there actual harm to the child?”
The practice doesn’t amount to child abuse so long as the children’s basic needs are being met. There is a law on the books banning panhandling with children, but it is seldom enforced.