MyHalifaxCa – Panhandlers

Its time to deal with the problem

Review effectiveness of legislation

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Though anti-panhandling legislation found in Canada is generally city-wide in application, the main intent is to address particular concerns about begging within the public spaces of the downtown. Enforcement of anti-panhandling by-laws varies widely among cities. In some enforcement is lax, while others enforce the legislation very strictly. At the same time many other cities make no formal attempt to regulate panhandlers.

Often legislative approaches have been challenged on the basis that they only move (as opposed to solve) the problem and limit or violate the rights of panhandlers trying to sustain themselves. The literature indicates that public education, adequate social programs and services for panhandlers, and informal social control are more effective and appropriate responses.

In several cities, including Winnipeg, both approaches are employed: they use legal measures to tackle the issue directly, while also offering a variety of social programs to reduce the extent of panhandling.

Most researchers agree that the enforcement of laws prohibiting panhandling does not solve the problem. Enforcing by-laws generally only “moves” the problem or reduces it in the short term but because by- laws fail to address the underlying causes, panhandlers soon return to panhandling. As well, panhandlers who may have been charged, generally show up panhandling somewhere else.

Anti-panhandling legislation approaches have been criticized for a variety of reasons:

· existing laws within the Criminal Code already prohibit aggressive behavior so by-laws that criminalize all panhandling are not necessary, nor will they effectively reduce panhandling over the long term;

· by- laws often rely upon subjective criteria – fear, perception, incivility and so on;

· there is no empirical evidence to prove that these legislative measures are working effectively. It has not been demonstrated that anti-panhandling by-laws actually reduce serious crime. Often it is difficult to determine if the intent of by- laws is to reduce serious crime or to improve the public’s level of comfort and perception of safety; and,

· safety for those panhandling is as great a concern as for other citizens.

Panhandlers often endure harassment and violence from the wider public, and legislative measures may actually increase the verbal and physical abuse panhandlers endure.

In some instances the issue of panhandling has been indirectly addressed through long-term programs with broad objectives such as job creation and reduction of unemployment; skills upgrading and job training; community economic and social development that arrests urban decay and neighborhood decline; and, provision of adequate services addressing the needs of panhandlers. These are broad, complex, long-term solutions aimed at reducing the marginalization of sectors of society that has intensified over the past couple of decades.

Many smaller, more focused initiatives that have played an effective role in reducing the number of people panhandling have been introduced in a variety of forms in many different cities throughout Canada and the United States. This illustrates that creating by-laws and criminalizing panhandling are not the only solutions.

The review concludes that making panhandling a crime by introducing anti-panhandling legislation will not eliminate begging. Making panhandling a criminal offence only penalizes and stigmatizes people based on their economic and social situation, but does not address the causes.

Written by lesmuise

October 27, 2008 at 11:54 pm

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