We have seen the future, and it sucks.

For Some BART Panhandlers, Begging Is Their Job

7th October 2017

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Experts say the traveling panhandlers are Roma, sometimes called gyspies – an widely-used term based on a misconception that the Roma originated in Egypt (they originated in northern India) and a label increasingly seen as perjorative.

They weren’t too eager to talk to us. “How long do you stay on the train? How many hours?” we asked one mother. “I don’t know because it’s first time,” she said.

The Kleenex crew, as we soon were calling the other group, were chattier once they learned our producer spoke Italian. One man told us he rides the rails every day, from 9 a.m. to 7 or 8 p.m. He said he was also from Romania and lives in Hayward.

Hayward was also the home of another Kleenex panhandler. She told us she works the trains seven days a week and makes $50 to $100 a day.

“They come on to BART because it’s a target-rich environment,” said BART Deputy Police Chief Ed Alvarez.

While BART is well aware of the panhandling groups, “It’s a First Amendment protected right to panhandle,” said Alvarez.

Panhandling may be legal, but where is the money going?

It turns out the Kleenex crew isn’t as destitute as their “help me” notes would make it seem. On several different nights we recognized half a dozen of them loading into a couple of Audis, a Mercedes and a Kia and counting their haul for the day.

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