Tar­get­ing churches

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - EDITORIAL -

Sting­ing crit­i­cism of the way our so­ci­ety deals with the poor and dis­ad­van­taged ap­peared on The Guardian’s opin­ion pages in re­cent days. One dealt with the forced evic­tion of apart­ment dwellers and small busi­ness own­ers on Grafton Street East to make way for a new Hol­land Col­lege stu­dent res­i­dence. The other was crit­i­cal of how we deal with pan­han­dlers in down­town Char­lot­te­town.

Each au­thor was ap­palled at how the rights of the poor are ig­nored. One won­ders what those au­thors would say this week af­ter Char­lot­te­town City Coun­cil dis­cussed the pan­han­dler is­sue Mon­day. In­stead of deal­ing with the cause of the prob­lem, coun­cil went on the at­tack. Now, city fa­thers are sug­gest­ing that pan­han­dlers should be kept away from lo­cal churches. What­ever hap­pened to the ba­sic con­cept of Chris­tian char­ity? This seems to fly in the face of the ba­sic tenet of most re­li­gions — giv­ing alms to the poor.

Church­go­ers have the op­tion of giv­ing — or not — out­side their place of wor­ship. As do pedes­tri­ans on down­town cor­ners. But the city seems anx­ious to marginal­ize pan­han­dlers even more. They are al­ready de­nied, by a nui­sance by­law, of pan­han­dling in the vicin­ity of ATMs, pay­phones, pub­lic re­strooms, tran­sit stops and taxi stands etc.

Churches have al­ways been con­sid­ered a sanc­tu­ary for the op­pressed. If one can­not ex­pect char­ity or a sym­pa­thetic ear at a church, what hope have pan­han­dlers at a busy down­town cor­ner?

It was a tourist who launched the lat­est round of crit­i­cism about pan­han­dlers. In a let­ter to the ed­i­tor, a Nova Sco­tia tourist said she was shocked at the num­ber of pan­han­dlers in the Is­land cap­i­tal. She cited her case of try­ing to cross Queen Street when a male pan­han­dler fol­lowed her across the street. Some­one at city hall took no­tice be­cause soon af­ter, po­lice were is­su­ing warn­ing tick­ets to pan­han­dlers and threat­en­ing ar­rest.

The city seems to be ig­nor­ing a plea from Down­town Char­lot­te­town Inc. (DCI) for more fund­ing so it can ex­pand its Nav­i­ga­tor Street Out­reach pro­gram. Down­town busi­nesses are fund­ing the project to seek out peo­ple on the streets, find out what their needs are and where to lead them to help. It seems to have some suc­cess as cases are cited of pan­han­dlers get­ting jobs, hous­ing and off the street.

De­spite th­ese small vic­to­ries, so­ci­ety has largely failed them. The Guardian’s poverty edi­tion this spring sug­gested the plight of pan­han­dlers sup­ports the con­cept of a Ba­sic In­come Guar­an­tee, en­hanced min­i­mum wage, af­ford­able hous­ing and other so­cial sup­ports.

Bring­ing at­ten­tion to this prob­lem may make us un­com­fort­able but pass­ing a more re­stric­tive by­law will not solve the prob­lem — it just shifts the lo­ca­tion. We have mas­sive trans­fers of pub­lic money from the fed­eral gov­ern­ment to this prov­ince so Islanders can have equal­ity in pro­grams and ser­vices. The prov­ince then passes along sup­ports to the city. So don’t be too hard on pan­han­dlers who are just seek­ing a lit­tle help to get off the streets. In­stead, they are be­ing threat­ened with hav­ing church doors slammed in their face.

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