November 10, 2015 - 6:51 AM
VERNON - A Vernon city councillor insists panhandling is getting out of control, but that view isn’t shared by the rest of council.
Coun. Scott Anderson raised the issue after a Vernon food truck vendor spoke out about being harassed and physically assaulted downtown.
“We have a duty to help anyone that needs help and I’m all for that,” Anderson said of the homeless population. “But we also have a duty to the people on the street who are constantly (harassed).”
He believes aggressive panhandling is getting more common downtown and is making people feel unsafe.
Anderson asked bylaw manager Clint Kanester if aggressive panhandling has increased over the last few years, particularly by transients as opposed to Vernon’s homeless population.
“It’s hard to say,” Kanester said. “Certainly we have seen lots of new faces of people that have not been in our community in the past, but we don’t keep statistics.”
Coun. Catherine Lord said in her experience, downtown does not have a big problem with panhandling.
“I think there’s an awful lot of people out there that don’t have another way to make money,” she said. “The ones I’ve seen have been pretty good…. To me it’s not a real problem. I don’t want to make it a real problem, or make the perception that it’s a real problem.”
Mayor Akbal Mund agreed aggressive panhandling is a non-issue.
“Do I believe it’s a problem in the city — no. Are there people who panhandle in the city? In all honesty, I’ve lived here for 22 years and I’ve never encountered a panhandler,” Mund said.
Coun. Juliette Cunningham, who runs a business downtown, said council has to be ‘very careful about ramping up the rhetoric on this.’
“I have very rarely — and I spend a lot of time downtown — very rarely felt intimidated,” Cunningham said. “If somebody asks me for money I’ll just say, ‘not today, sorry.’ To be honest, nine times out of 10 they’ll say ‘God bless you, thank you.’”
Cunningham said when panhandling does become aggressive, the city has bylaws, and the RCMP, to take care of it.
Anderson shot back that council can’t ‘hide our heads in the sand’ and that council’s individual experiences is irrelevant compared to the voices of the public.
“When we’ve got hundreds of people on social media saying it’s a problem and we just pretend it’s not a problem, and (say) if we address the problem it will become reality, well, it is reality,” Anderson said.
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News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2015