by Anneli Rufus
South Berkeleyites regularly report strangers arriving on their doorsteps after dark, requesting handouts. Usually a story is attached: The stranger needs money for car repairs, for transportation, or to feed children (who are nowhere to be seen). When the residents offer rides, mechanical assistance, or groceries instead of cash, they are usually turned down.
This week, a resident reports to her Lorin District neighborhood-watch group:
"Last night at around 8:30pm a young girl knocked on our door and said that she needed help. She was dressed in blue jeans and a red, sleeveless hoodie sweatshirt. She said that her mother had left her in Berkeley and flown to LA - she said that she normally lived in LA. Her mother and sister had somehow gotten their signals crossed and abandoned her in Berkeley. She said that her uncle lived in Hayward and that she needed help gathering enough money to take BART out to his house. He, then, would take her to LA to reunite with her mother the next day. She asked for an apple.
"She seemed nervous. She said that she was 11 years old. I suggested that we get more help, and she said that her family had told her never to involve the police if she were in trouble like this.
"I gave her a dollar and an apple and told her that she needed more help than what I could provide, that she shouldn't be out at night knocking on people's doors asking for money, that she didn't have a coat on, and that she should be at home doing her homework after having eaten dinner.
"From my window, I saw her go to 4 other houses on our block. ... One of these neighbors of mine let her inside to use the bathroom and gave her 2 dollars. One of them thought that the girl was accompanied by a 20ish young man - but was unable to ascertain the relationship between the 2.
"I called the non-emergency police line and gave them a description of what happened. Weather or not her story was genuine, I felt it dangerous for her to be out walking by herself knocking on doors asking for money at night."
Neighbors posted responses. One wrote:
"This young girl knocked on our door ... too. My strong suspicion was that it was a scam (BART money for an emergency is one we've heard more than once before). She may have been put up to it. ...
"I urged that we call the police for her, assuring [her] that they would help her, and she declined. ... She also seemed very calm for a young kid who was supposedly stranded. ...
"We don't feel it is safe to open the door. This girl seemed harmless, but you never know who might be waiting in the wings.'"
Another chimed in:
"I've been asked for BART money at least a dozen times. They always seem disappointed when I offer a BART ticket."
Yet another opined:
"If the girl's story is true, she was abandoned by her mother 400 miles from home and left to fend for herself. That deserves the police getting involved whether she likes it or not. If she is not telling the truth she is pandering which is a crime. ... I vote [for calling] the police either way."