Stronger by­law will not fix pan­han­dling

Prov­ince cre­ated the prob­lem, now city stuck with the cost

Saskatoon StarPhoenix - - OPINION - JOR­DON COOPER

City coun­cil ap­proved changes to Saska­toon’s pan­han­dling by­law re­cently, ban­ning the prac­tice near theatres and around peo­ple us­ing park­ing pay sta­tions.

The re­sult of the re­vised by­law? It won’t change a thing. When you’re a pan­han­dler, you don’t have any­thing to lose. You are do­ing this be­cause you don’t have other op­tions. Fines aren’t a de­ter­rent be­cause how are they go­ing to col­lect? A week­end in jail may even be an up­grade.

Other buf­fer zones haven’t worked. Take a walk past some of the liquor stores, which have long had a buf­fer in place. Peo­ple are pan­han­dling at the doors. If you don’t have the in­cli­na­tion or the staff to en­force it, what good does a by­law do?

The prob­lem for city coun­cil is city poli­cies aren’t the cause of the prob­lem, nor does coun­cil have the tools to solve the is­sue. All coun­cil­lors can do is prop­erly space out the chairs on the deck of the Ti­tanic.

Pan­han­dling is a prob­lem and I don’t want to say it isn’t. Be­ing harassed for money when walk­ing down­town is un­pleas­ant for a lot of peo­ple, es­pe­cially for us in­tro­verts, who like to avoid talk­ing with peo­ple as much as pos­si­ble. No won­der The Part­ner­ship wants it to end. The prob­lem is this is­sue is cre­ated by an­other level of gov­ern­ment.

Peo­ple are pan­han­dling be­cause they don’t have money and need some­thing des­per­ately. Stud­ies have shown that a need for food, tobacco and al­co­hol is a large driv­ing fac­tor.

For oth­ers, it’s be­cause they may be on so­cial as­sis­tance but some­thing has gone wrong and the Min­istry of So­cial Ser­vices has re­fused them emer­gency as­sis­tance. Yes, you can sur­vive on So­cial Ser­vices fund­ing, but as nu­mer­ous stud­ies have shown, in or­der to do it you need to have cer­tain core com­pe­ten­cies that come with a mid­dle class up­bring­ing. In­tro­duce ad­dic­tions, men­tal or phys­i­cal health prob­lems or just bad luck into the equa­tion, and all of a sud­den sur­vival is al­most im­pos­si­ble.

Ac­cess­ing those ser­vices can also mean your over­age is clawed back on your next cheque, which means your ra­zor-thin mar­gin no longer ex­ists. Then you’re hop­ing your ham­per from the Saska­toon food bank is ab­nor­mally large or you can get some ex­tras from the soup kitchens just for food.

So­cial Ser­vices has had a long prac­tice of putting as many peo­ple as pos­si­ble into the Tran­si­tional Em­ploy­ment As­sis­tance (TEA) pro­gram rather than the tra­di­tional so­cial as­sis­tance pro­gram. A cynic would suggest they do this so they can tell peo­ple the num­ber of peo­ple on so­cial as­sis­tance is drop­ping. Even if that isn’t the case, fewer emer­gency pro­grams and re­sources are avail­able to peo­ple on the TEA.

I have writ­ten be­fore about how some turn to pros­ti­tu­tion or drugs as a way to get by and just to sur­vive. Com­pared to those choices, pan­han­dling is by far the lesser evil.

The prob­lem isn’t the pan­han­dlers. They are just a symp­tom of failed pro­vin­cial and fed­eral poli­cies around so­cial ser­vices and peo­ple on pen­sions. When you give peo­ple enough money to just barely sur­vive at sub­sis­tence lev­els, pan­han­dling hap­pens.

Of course, what­ever tax­payer money is saved at the pro­vin­cial level is spent at the mu­nic­i­pal level be­cause now you have to pay more for polic­ing as well as court and jail costs for pick­ing up peo­ple for un­paid pan­han­dling tick­ets. Add to that the money the city spends on Com­mu­nity Sup­port Of­fi­cers.

If the busi­ness im­prove­ment dis­tricts are cor­rect, we can also add the loss of rev­enue from down­town busi­nesses be­cause peo­ple don’t like shop­ping in that en­vi­ron­ment.

The prov­ince has off­loaded the prob­lem of pan­han­dling and street ac­tiv­ity to the cities, which have lim­ited re­sources and ju­ris­dic­tion over the is­sue but are now stuck with the costs. It’s not good pol­icy or gov­er­nance by the prov­ince, but rather a cheap ac­count­ing and po­lit­i­cal trick that has real fi­nan­cial and hu­man costs.

Pan­han­dling won’t stop with buf­fer zones. It will stop by help­ing peo­ple out of cri­sis. Sadly, that is a pro­vin­cial re­spon­si­bil­ity it doesn’t take very se­ri­ously. Un­til that changes, the city will be stuck with a prob­lem it lacks the tools to solve.

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