It is that time of year again. As tourists flood Vancouver’s busiest hubs, the Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association warns of a surge in aggressive panhandling numbers.
“Panhandlers are certainly familiar with the primary tourists locations,” says Walt Judas, Vice President of Tourism Vancouver.
The DVBIA reported 200 incidents of aggressive panhandling in February and over 100 per month in March and April this year, according to Charles Gauthier, president and CEO of the association.
“People are being chases persistently, asked for money, their paths are being interfered with, and some are telling people off if they’re not getting the money they’re asking for,” says Gauthier.
Although aggressive panhandling occurs all over Vancouver, Gauthier says certain hot spots have been attracting more incidents, such as cruise ship terminals and the entertainment district along Granville Street.
The Safe Streets Act terms aggressive panhandling as an offence when a “person solicits in a manner that would cause a reasonable person to be concerned for the solicited person’s safety or security.” This includes blocking someone’s path, following them, using offensive language, panhandling as a group, or threatening to cause physical harm.
The VPD issued 14 tickets for aggressive panhandling in 2013 and one since May 31 this year, according to Sgt. Randy Fincham, spokesperson for the VPD.
“There’s gotta be a balance here. We’re a compassionate city. We care about people. We want to help people out, but there also has to be boundaries,” says Gauthier.
On the other hand, Doug King, who handles private security issues for the Pivot Legal Society, says enforcement should be an absolute last resort since ticketing for their offences has yet to have an effect on people’s behaviour.
“The appropriate way to deal with it would be to address the social situation which causes somebody to be in a situation where they panhandle aggressively,” says King.
Besides law enforcement, another way to reduce aggressive panhandling potentially lies with affordable housing.
Shelters and supportive housing can help get people off the street and seek financial assistance or health-related care.
“When shelter is made available to people that are homeless, we do see aggressive panhandling numbers dip significantly,” says Gauthier. “It makes sense. They’re not desperately out there [asking] for money.”