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City Council supports Panhandling Education and Awareness Campaign

City of BrantfordCity Council supports Panhandling Education and Awareness Campaign

City of Brantford councillors unanimously endorsed a Panhandling Education and Awareness Campaign during its Committee of the Whole, Planning and Administration meeting held on Tuesday, January 16, 2024.

“While the City of Brantford does not have the mandate or resources to fully address issues that contribute to why individuals panhandle, Staff are recommending an education and awareness campaign to ensure that the public is aware of panhandling restrictions, while at the same time, encouraging residents to support organizations who are providing food and other basic needs to vulnerable individuals experiencing poverty,” said the report from City Staff.

The report comes forward after Council directed Staff on Tuesday, August 29, 2023,

to provide “recommendations to reduce the impact of panhandling including, but not limited to, options related to permits, by-law, signage and design features. Recommendations to create greater awareness of charitable organizations including, but not limited to, collaborative marketing campaigns, sign placement, and centralized information. As well as projected costs and resources required for the recommendations listed above.”

During Tuesday’s meeting, Councillors got to ask questions about the intended awareness campaign, which is set to be funded in the amount of $25,000 from the Council Priorities Reserve.

Councillor Dan McCreary first explained how the original August resolution initially came about.

“We hear a lot from folks who are quite annoyed at the sight of beggars hitting them up for money at intersections and Tim Horton’s drive-thru’s, and it’s quite unsettling especially for some female folks who are quite threatened by the presence of folks that are, in some cases, a bit aggressive,” said McCreary.

He then asked staff to explain how the money would be used if the campaign was approved.

Aaron Wallace, Director of Community Strategies and Family Supports, said that the communication would go out in three directions.

One being to spread the message to the public that panhandling is prohibited under the Safe Streets Act, and if they experience or witness the act, they are entitled to call the police to have it remedied.

The other piece of information for the public would be around the opportunity to donate or volunteer to organizations that support those in need rather than engaging with panhandling.

“There will also be a piece of information going out to the individuals panhandling,” he added. “That would be information about the resources that are available to them and potentially also about the restrictions if they were to violate that.”

McCreary then asked if they would be providing that information through a form of media, or directly to those panhandling and Wallace said that they would be about engaging with the individuals, rather than going through the media.

“This would have to be limited to City property where our by-law officers are permitted to go,” said Wallace. “It would not be done on Ministry of Transportation (MTO) property, or anything outside of the City’s property.”

McCreary inquired if they would be able to put up signage on certain community properties that would deter panhandling, however Wallace noted that did not find evidence of this being effective in other communities and that it’s not recommended to spend the money on such signage.

Councillor Greg Martin then noted that he once received a call from a woman who had spoken to a panhandler and was quite upset to hear about the lack of spaces in shelters.

“I was on the Board of Directors for the Rosewood House, and at that time, there were about four or six beds open pretty much every night. I explained to her ‘what this person told you wasn’t true, but they were just telling you a story to get your sympathy and get some money from you,’ and she seemed quite surprised that they would have lied to her,” said Martin. “That’s the problem with people begging on the side of the road, you don’t know if they’re truly homeless, or if they’re just begging to support a drug habit or an alcohol problem. If people give to the Food Bank or the Salvation Army, it’s going to people who are truly homeless and who need help, instead of someone who’s just trying to support a bad habit.”

He said he hopes they can encourage people to not give to those on the side of the road who are endangering themselves and others by being too close to traffic.

Councillor Linda Hunt, then inquired about Wallace’s earlier comment regarding not being able to enforce the by-law on MTO property, asking if this included highway ramps, and Dave Wiedrick, Director of By-law Compliance and Security, confirmed that highway ramps would indeed be considered MTO property.

Hunt asked if she was correct to assume this would completely stop them from enforcing the by-law in those areas.

“That is partially correct. If we receive permission from the MTO, then we would be able to go there,” said Wiedrick. “It’s the same with some of the grocery stores… they are private property, so we can’t enforce our by-law unless they allow us or ask us as agents to do that.”

Kevin Davis, Mayor for the City of Brantford, said that the safest legislation they have regarding the issue is the Safe Streets Act. He noted it was designed to help stop “squeegee kids” from approaching vehicles to clean windshields but does nothing to those just standing by the road and not being aggressive.

It was said that the Police are the ones enforcing the Safe Streets Act (which includes the power of arrest), but that the panhandlers often get away by the time they arrive.

Davis then inquired about the effectiveness in giving out fines to the panhandlers.

“The fines are not being paid because the people don’t have the money to pay the fines, however, it is still an act to get them to stop,” said Wiedrick.

Davis also asked about possibly moving a by-law to prohibit drivers from making donations, however Wiedrick said it would be up to Police to enforce it and that there haven’t been any communities successful in following through with such by-law.

During the discussion, it was also noted that not one of the panhandlers identified, are the same people identified in the 163 encampments that have been engaged since July 2023.

Davis then went on to say he would be supporting the resolution and hopes that through education, they can help to discourage the act of panhandling within the city.

“I understand why people donate, you get a good feeling when you do and you think you’re helping, but I think the reality is that there’s a lot of anecdotal evidence, that this might be a bit organized. …I mean there’s clearly no doubt that some of the money that you give, is going to be used to, likely, purchase drugs,” said Davis. “When you’re donating money to a panhandler, there is a possibility that what you’re doing is helping to fuel the drug trade… but there’s lots of ways that you can donate and have a really meaningful, important and beneficial impact for those in our community who are most in need.”

Councillor Richard Carpenter also suggested the perhaps people who are interested in donating money, could set up an automatic monthly donation to one of the many credible organizations within the city.

Council then voted unanimously to support the Panhandling Education and Awareness Campaign, and will vote on the final decision during their regular Council meeting on Tuesday, January 30, 2024.

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