Tuesday, November 15, 2011

$550,000 to Panhandlers--wise investment?

Short answer: No.  Long answer: No and Yes.  A report came back yesterday that made some recommendations to city council surrounding the issue of panhandling.  What the report found out was that people were not so much concerned with panhandling but rather with the sense of security in certain areas.  In fact the study found out that many Saskatoonians feel unsafe going into certain areas at night.  Downtown, 20th street, Broadway were frequently mentioned.

The report recognized that there are wider issues of mental health, addictions and poverty that come into play and further recognized that unlike Calgary and other centres that they examined we do not have sufficient resources where folks in need can be directed to.  The second recommendation in fact recognized that the "larger issues" are largely provincial areas but that the city could play a role in the following areas:

(a) designing projects that are right  for Saskatoon and building support for them;
(b) finding private funding to assist with such projects; and
(c) making the business case for Government funding for such projects.

The report noted that in Calgary intox facilities (for example) were run by non-profit organizations and that having them run in such a way was preferable due to the likelihood of receiving ongoing private funding.

In fact, all of the subpoints the committee made in regards to addressing the larger issues of homelessness, addiction and poverty through establishment of facilities and housing initiatives make a lot of sense.  What doesn't make any sense though is the recommendation to hire five "bylaw officers" before there are facilities in place to actually address the larger issues.

In Calgary, the city that is mentioned as having this program in place, "bylaw officers" are used to interact with the panhandlers and people on the street in their given area.  When someone new comes in the area they know who they are and what they are about and when required they can direct them to appropriate facilities such an intox centres or shelters or low-cost housing.  As the report points out, Calgary has a wealth of these facilities (again...privately/government funded--not city funded); and, as the report also points out, Saskatoon does not have sufficient facilities.  Our intox centre is regularly full by early evening.

So, the question I have is where are our "bylaw officers" going to be directing people to go to?  If there are no services (and there is a recognition that sufficient services are currently not available) then what is their purpose?  It appears that the sole purpose of the "bylaw officers" is to provide a sense of security to the general public.  Isn't that what our police are for?

If we are going to create a program that is designed to help panhandlers or those with addiction problems or mental health issues, let's make sure we're actually helping them.  Hiring 5 bylaw officers when there is no infrastructure is really just a band-aid solution that is designed to make the public feel good about going downtown at night.  The only thing they realistically will be able to do is call the police.  And that can be done by the very shop owners, restaurant owners and bar owners that are also in the area.

Feeling safe is not a bad thing. That is what the police are for.  If we're talking about helping people off the street, we've got to have viable solutions.  What the report points out is that it is private, non-profit organizations that are best suited to address those concerns.  What Saskatoon should be doing is finding those local non-profit organizations interested in helping folks off the streets and aiding them in securing funding from private and provincial government sources--ie all the things the report indicates in its second recommendation. Once that is done, then and only then should the city entertain the possibility of hiring "bylaw officers."  To do it the other way around is really putting the cart before the horse.

Carts are useful.  They are exponentially more useful when pulled by a horse. The way the current report is structured is backwards. If it is turned around, then it becomes much more palatable. But, in its current form, it would be a further waste of $550,000.  Let's hope City Council gets this right.

This post is up for discussion.
Create your free online surveys with SurveyMonkey, the world's leading questionnaire tool.


  1. It concerns me that the drive behind the pan-handling committee was largely the Partnership and other Riversdale and Broadway Business Improvement District. They are much more concerned with appearances then helping those who are disadvantaged around them.
    Many programs and community groups are working and actively engaged with pan-handlers, and these groups have been almost threatened when one of their members is pan-handling (Ex. The Lighthouse). This is not a police issue because these people aren't threats or threatening and couldn't pay tickets if they were given. Although I do agree with a greater police presence in pedestrian areas, esp. after dark, the money could have gone into further supports. Certainly an intox centre, I believe, would help the community greatly.

  2. Contrary to the report I do not see things the same, and in fact I remember participating in the Insightrix data collection voicing my opinion. Personally, as a citizen thinking about visiting downtown I find it the other way around. I'm not so much concerned with security as I am annoyed at being asked for money or seeing young, healthy kids parked in front of midtown plaza with their guitar. They are a huge detractor from the downtown area that has more recently seen new life breathed back in to it. Panhandling repels people and business away from downtown (see p.70 of the report "People Feel Uncomfortable with Panhandlers") people + businesses + traffic = tax dollars. Dollars that could be spent on generating programs or funding already existing non-profits. Keeping this sort of activity out of downtown all together is important for this city to experience healthy growth. I am not suggesting that we simply ignore this issue or sweep it to another particular area but the beating heart of the city is its downtown and it needs to be kept healthy.

  3. Anonymous, thank you for your input. Funny how a young person with a guitar at Fringe is an entrepeneur to be celebrated while the same (potentially) young person plying their musical trade in front of the Midtown is seen as a nuisance.

    The problem with the "bylaw officers" is that they can do nothing with regards to panhandling because it isn't illegal in most areas and the officers won't be enabled to issue tickets anyway. And, if there are no services to direct street people to...it's just money being spent on appearances as indicated by DeeAnn.

    So, without those types of facilities, even if the bylaw officers were able to and everyone wanted the musicians to move--they would simply be swept to another area...problem not solved, just relocated.

  4. Brandon, I am Mr. Anonymous. It was early this morning when I wrote and missed seeing the box for Name/URL. I'm not one for hiding behind a veil of suspicion, I pretty much make my view known and enjoy stirring the pot... even though it lands me in trouble sometimes :)

    I did not say that I supported the idea of the "bylaw" officers, I don't. Maybe should have clarified that one. It would accomplish little more than creating 5 gov't jobs. Ummm, no thanks.

    Guitar playing - It IS funny how that young person could be seen as an entrepreneur, in any venue.

    I don't have a fix-all solution but I will specify I am not the guy in the report that said "shoot'em all".

    I've been enjoying reading in your forum here. Thanks for taking the time to transcribe your thoughts.

  5. Build an infrastructure for panhandlers and they will come. That happened here in Calgary. Bylaw officers here are useless, even if they can write tickets, collecting would be the problem. Downtown is full of panhandlers and homeless BECAUSE of the programs. Having said that, I lived in DT Saskatoon and never had an issue with them. In Calgary, it is epidemic. The "services" do not prevent or mitigate the problem, just make it worse. These people don't want help, they want drugs, booze or who knows what. They have a place to sleep (shelters) and are well fed at these places. By the way, Fringe is an organized event with busking encouraged and expected. Midtown is a nuisance because it is unwanted.