Sunday, January 16, 2011

Panhandling proposal 'poor bashing'

Ban won't address root causes of poverty, advocacy group says

By David Hutton
The StarPhoenix
January 12, 2011

Banning panhandling in large parts of Saskatoon would only "sweep the problem under the carpet," says a member of a local anti-poverty group.

"You can't be the pied piper and pipe all these people off to another area of town," said Vanessa Charles, past-chair of the Saskatoon Anti-Poverty Coalition, which was involved in the recent review of the panhandling bylaw.

"It's not right. It's poor-bashing. Unfortunately, panhandling is a fact of life for some people.

"Why don't we do something about the root causes of poverty instead of sweeping them under the carpet?"

A Saskatoon city council committee this week asked the city solicitor for a legal opinion on whether it was possible under the Constitution to amend the panhandling bylaw to ban the practise in large zones surrounding the downtown or extend a ban to include a defined distance from the doorways of businesses.

Saskatoon's panhandling bylaw, which came into effect in 1999, was amended in 2003 to take out a number of sections that were viewed as too restrictive.

The city administration's proposal, debated at council in December, was to ban panhandling within 10 metres of liquor stores, which have become hot spots for aggressive begging, but some councillors said the provision is unfair to neighbouring businesses, which wouldn't have any protection.

Coun. Myles Heidt suggested boundaries that would form a panhandling-free zone and include Avenue P in the west and Eighth Street in the east to the river.

Charles said the poverty group is on board with a ban around liquor stores given the "intimidation" many people can feel, particularly around the 20th Street store.

"People have a right to panhandle and certainly, I think, everyone agreed the 10-metre distance was fair," she said. "But when you're talking about banning people from whole regions of the city, that's just not fair."

Les Samuelson, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Saskatchewan, said a panhandling ban in a particular defined zone would need to be justified throughout the entire area.

"It's a knee-jerk reaction to a nuisance problem," Samuelson said.
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