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KIRO 7 TV’s Dave Wagner investigates panhandlers with children

Women begging with young children at their sides have become a common sight on the streets of downtown Seattle — and KIRO 7 TV anchor Dave Wagner spent half a year investigating the trend to see if the situation is really what the panhandlers claim it to be.

“What we’re seeing is a lot of women with children on downtown streets — we know that panhandling is prolific in Seattle, and it’s also legal, unless it’s considered aggressive,” he said. “But in this situation, we see children ranging in age from very young, maybe a year old on up to 10, 11.”

Their handmade signs say that they need money for rent or food, claiming to have just lost their jobs or fallen on hard times in some other way.

Many of the female panhandlers whom Wagner observed arrived and left together. One man interviewed by Wagner said that he has seen a van driving around dropping off and picking up panhandlers.

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“They were definitely working in tandem,” Wagner told KIRO Radio’s Dori Monson.

One evening, he followed them onto the bus they took, not knowing where or how far they would be traveling. With the help of a Romanian interpreter, Wagner was able to understand the women and children’s conversation, centering around how much money they had made on the streets that day. One of the children with them carried an iPhone.

Over an hour later, Wagner followed them off the bus to an apartment complex with a swimming pool — a far cry from the life of desperation described on the cardboard signs.

“We went through a wooded area and into an apartment complex where rents range up to about $2,200 a month,” he said. “It wasn’t really the down-and-out life that is being portrayed on the streets.”

At one point in the report, a concerned citizen can be seen confronting a panhandling woman with a child in an apparent deep sleep in a stroller. To prove he is awake, the woman touches his face, lightly shakes him, and calls his name, but he does not stir. The worried passerby states that the child has been like that for hours and appears to be drugged.

“We saw other children in this woman’s arms who also looked like they were in a very deep sleep,” Wagner said. “So it’s concerning, it’s concerning that kids are out there day after day after day, in the elements, being exposed to this.”

Ross Hunter, secretary of the Washington State Department of Children, Youth, and Families, expressed concern over the video of the unresponsive child, noting that a child should not typically remain still after attempts to wake them up. However, he said that the law prevents his department from stepping in unless it can be proven that a child is clearly in danger.

“The question is, do our laws adequately protect these children on the street?” Wagner asked.

Listen to the Dori Monson Show weekday afternoons from 12-3 p.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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