A Pasco County woman was robbed by a panhandler last night while trying to give a man $5.
Deputes say 35-year-old David Blum reached into the woman's car at US 19 and Beacon Woods Drive in Hudson, stealing $70 and her debit card. Deputies say he then choked the victim's son when he confronted Blum.
According to Sheriff Chris Nocco, incidents with panhandlers have been increasing.
"They're criminals; they're just trying to tug at people's hearts," said Sheriff Nocco.
Deputies found Blum at a homeless camp in the woods a short distance away from where he had been staying with several other people.
We checked it out.
In the woods, an elaborate set-up with a gate, beds, clothes, a makeshift toilet, a dart board, even what appeared to be the beginnings of a small meth lab started just this morning.
Other small camps in the woods were littered with liquor bottles and empty packets of synthetic marijuana known as Spice.
"For some people, it is a bad place," said Robin Waters, a woman living in the camp. "For some people, it's their salvation."
Waters said she had been living in the camp for about two months. Before that, she was living with her husband and five kids. She says the reason she left was because she didn't like living in a home with a bunch of people who didn't listen to her.
She says she panhandles only one day a week: Sunday.
"It's their choice (to give me money). Do you want to help somebody regardless of what they do with the money? It doesn't matter what they're doing with the money," she said.
When asked if she does drugs, she said, "Yes. I don't drink. I don't shoot up. I smoke."
When asked if she was looking for work, she said she was not.
Deputies in the woods offered her assistance, but she refused the help.
Now, the sheriff's office has placed an electronic sign near the intersection where the robbery occurred. The sign reads, "For your safety / Give to charity groups / Not panhandlers."
The signs warns of the dangers of giving to panhandlers.
"Give to churches, give to the Salvation Army, groups like that. Don't give to panhandlers because these panhandlers are out there committing crimes, and now violent crimes," said Sheriff Nocco.