Monday, August 21, 2006

Panhandling in Vancouver

I wonder if we've finally reached a tipping point with the panhandling in Vancouver, which has clearly been out of control for the past several years. This afternoon I saw two policeman having a stern talk with a panhandler (and frequently high drug addict) in the South Granville area where I live. This is the first time I have ever seen this in my neighbourhood.

As I walked by them, I distinctly heard one officer say to the fellow, "he is now focused on stopping panhandling in the city". I don't know who "he" is, but as long as it's the police chief or higher then perhaps things will finally change.

On the weekend there was a front page story in the Vancouver Sun illustrating how bad panhandling has become. I'd long known that one could not relax outside of most coffee shops without a person sitting down beside you and hassling you for money. This has happened to me several times. Some don't take 'No' for an answer. But more recently some tourists have been approached in the restrooms of 4-star hotels!

Picking up on something that Vaughn Palmer, Vancouver Sun columnist said on Bill Good's show last Friday, if you feel the need to give money to one of these people then instead donate it to one of the numerous charitable agencies around town. Otherwise, you are just incentivizing them to continue begging for money, which is clearly driving away valuable convention business from the city. Furthermore, and this is strictly my opinion, you are just feeding their addiction. You can pretend you're not by saying, "I don't know for sure where the money is going", but face the facts that in most cases that's exactly what you're doing!

There's an old expression about word-of-mouth communication whereby you tell two people and then they tell two people and so on. Information can spread very quickly like this. I think that many in Vancouver are in denial about the bad reputation our city has obtained when it comes to the panhandling problem. Recently I was contacted by the Wilson Quarterly, a publication of the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, DC. They're considering running a story on the streets of Vancouver and wanted to use this photo of mine. I truly hope that strong and consistent (not flash-in-the-pan) enforcement of the Safe Streets Act is carried out. It's long overdue.

When the expected response against enforcing our laws comes from such people as my NDP MLA, Gregor Robertson, they should simply be ignored. I'll never forget the time I asked him what he was going to do to protect people like my 74-year old mother from beligerent street people, he tried to turn it around by saying that she should have more empathy for the young men hassling her.


dgnyhk said...

Begging is common in most places in the world. The fact that it is now becoming an issue in Vancouver means you're in good company.

Of course usually it's people who are plain old poor and need help. But even then, your money does more in an NGO.

I wonder, though, why there's a need to stop using a perfectly good word like "incenting" and add the ever so annoying "vizing"? Almost as irksome as the ruin of a wonderfully small word - use - which now seems completely ignored for the larger and more awkward utilize. (Plus, a *true* Canadian would use incentivise...)

Hillary said...

I don't give money, but often I'll offer to buy them something to eat (cuase hey, if they need the money for food, that shoud be good, right?), and I'm most often met with a no. I'm happy to buy a sanswich or something, but not just give them money.

Joshua said...

Tonight I was downtown just walking around. I first saw a whole bunch of pan handlers waiting outside the hockey game near the end, then soon after I was up the street waiting for my wife at a playhouse and there comes the same panhandlers. A lot of them do this as a profession and we are supporting the fact that they dont have jobs. They make a lot of money doing this, as soon as no one is looking, they pocket the money so it looks like they are making nothing. I am not saying these people do not need help, but we cant support them by giving them money.. it just encourages them to continue doing absolutely nothing for it.