Complaints of panhandling in the downtown core have doubled over the past year and frustrated police want the city to give them more options to combat the problem, city council was told yesterday.
Council has no immediate plans to deal with the issue. Mayor Stephen Mandel agreed that the problem is unacceptable, and that he is often harassed.
“I can’t tell you the number of times I get people saying, ‘Oh, Mr. Mayor,’ and come ask me for money,” Mandel said. “Often times, even I get scared when people ask me for money, and I’m not a single person walking alone in the downtown area at night.”
A report to deal with the problem is due back to the Community Services Committee in October.
“Since we’ve gotten into the economic boom, we’re seeing more panhandling than we ever have in the past,” said police Supt. John Findlay. “It’s starting to spread out through the city.”
Currently, the legislation deals with “crowding, jostling, or harassing,” which only applies to aggressive panhandlers. Police say the bylaw needs to be changed to target those who passively panhandle near banks, bus stops and other public places.
“The problem is that it affects the average, everyday citizen in this city going to and from their work,” Findlay said. “People are fed up with this, are tired of being approached and are feeling their personal safety is being compromised — the problem is, we have to follow the law.”
Findlay said that police are seeing more instances of aggression in panhandlers, and warns citizens to just keep on walking.
“Don’t engage with them. If you decline to give them money, our experience is some of them become more aggressive,” Findlay said.