Should we license panhandlers?
On a recent visit to downtown Toronto I was surprised by the number of panhandlers who greeted me on almost every street corner. While none of these panhandlers were threatening or aggressive, I must admit that I was cautious as I passed them.
I am accustomed to panhandlers, as I spend a lot of my time downtown meeting with clients and politicians, but this experience made me stop and think about our City and our future. If I was a little leery walking by panhandlers, I am sure that I am not alone. I can only imagine what our tourists experience on a daily basis as they visit the many great destinations in the downtown core.
Before I go any further, I want to make the distinction between panhandling and homelessness. Homeless advocates constantly try to blur the lines between panhandlers and the homeless, but the reality is that not all panhandlers are homeless, and not all homeless are panhandlers.
Homelessness is a serious and complex problem that requires a multi-pronged approach to resolve. Governments have an obligation to assist the homeless population in our City, to provide sustainable housing opportunities and resources to protect one of the most vulnerable groups in our society. But this issue is for a future blog.
The Safe Streets Act, which was enacted in 1999 regulates panhandling in Ontario, but does not go far enough to preventing panhandling. Just because a panhandler is not aggressive or threatening, it does not mean that they should be permitted to impede or even block a person’s use of the public sidewalk.
If panhandling were prohibited in the downtown core, it would require additional resources and job skills training in order to provide people with a viable alternative. Now that would be money well spent.
I have an idea!
If we cannot ban panhandling in the downtown core, why not regulate it like they do with hot dog vendors, or community groups who use city parks?
Under this new regulation, Professional Panhandlers would be required to apply for an annual permit in order to provide their “service” on City sidewalks. They would be given a designated spot on a sidewalk of their choice, and also be required to review and adhere to the Safe Streets Act. They could even carry around a special badge that makes them an official City of Toronto Panhandler.
This idea may sound a little outrageous, but so is the status quo.