Panhandling licence an attack on the poor
I knew that it would only be a matter of time before a ridiculous notion was neatly tucked between eloquent words and antiquated conservative rhetoric.
Okay, let me get this straight. I’m walking down Queen St. West, taking in the fashion, the art, the food and the beautiful sunshine. Suddenly I see a non-threatening individual holding out a cup, soliciting change from passersby. I look for their licence. They don’t have one. I report them to the police, who pick them up, hold them overnight and fine them for not having a licence.
The panhandler is now in the system for not having a panhandler’s licence. However, now they have this fine to repay. So it’s back to Queen Street they go, where they hold out a cup. Then, as luck would have it Mr. Bordonali sees this individual, asks for their panhandler’s licence and alas a downward cycle impoverishment begins.
What kind of city are we when we start licensing the poor? Are we also going to do credit checks on Ontario Works applicants to ensure that they’ve exhausted every possible avenue for income?
How about we ensure that the disabled do a physical with a city-approved doctor to confirm that they are, in fact, disabled and worthy of ODSP? Or better yet, let’s do language tests for non-English-speaking newcomers who need use settlement services? And if nobody makes the grade, we should charge them for fraud. If I could find an eloquent way to say this I would, but this idea is stupid. It’s also offensively primitive. We’re missing the root causes of this whole issue: the widening gap between rich and poor.
Toronto is heralded as powerful centre for commerce. It’s true that we are enviously regarded as the economic engine of Canada. However, this is also a city where youth unemployment is more than twenty percent and the number of people claiming employment insurance skyrocketed from 22,000 to more than 42,000. In true, survival of the fittest fashion, panhandlers seem to be taking matters into their own hands.
People don’t panhandle for the perks. Contrary to conservative belief, there is no real upside to being poor. Tempting as it is to believe, the many, many, many perks that come with sitting on the concrete all day, holding out a cup with hopes that someone will drop a toonie, rather than the pennies, nickels and dimes that many of us prefer to leave, don’t add up to very much.
And more importantly, what would it take to implement something like this?
I will assume that there will be no more surprise surpluses or bailouts any time soon, which means no new revenue streams. So this program would probably be paid out of tax dollars. So what is the cost to taxpayers?
I suppose there needs to be administrative staff monitoring the panhandler master list and the licences. There also needs to be someone responsible for issuing and collecting fines and maybe even some staff to co-ordinate information sessions on “how to get a panhandlers licence." Sounds like a typical municipal program, except for one thing: an assumption of compliance.
Do we really think that panhandlers will be falling over themselves to comply with licensing requirements? Chances are they won't, and then what? What happens to non-compliant panhandlers? Will they be fined, or worse, detained? To do so would put further strain and result in nothing productive. In Ontario it costs upwards of $140 every day to detain someone and $25 per day for alternative measures like probation. This doesn’t include the cost of policing the streets to find the insolent culprits who managed to dodge the first warning. Is this where we really want our tax dollars to go?
I have an idea: stop poor bashing. Licensing the poor won’t make this city socially or financially rich. Long term commitments in what this city really needs (i.e. housing, childcare) is where we need to shift our focus.About Tonika Morgan