VERNON - Vernon council is taking steps to reduce the amount of panhandling happening in the city.
A task force made up of council representatives, city staff and the Social Planning Council of the North Okanagan has been created to come up with ways to reduce panhandling on city streets and medians.
“People aren’t blind. It doesn’t take a detective to figure out there’s an issue here,” Coun. Scott Anderson says.
Anderson is one of the councillors on the task force and says they will be looking at a number of approaches to help with the issue.
“I’d like to see a two-pronged approach, one with enforcement and one with education. I would like to have a campaign that tells folks that giving money to panhandlers is often more counterproductive than productive,” Anderson says.
The committee will be meeting in the coming days to develop the plan, but Anderson says one of the ideas being looked at is to encourage members of the public to give their money to local non-profits instead of panhandlers. One way to do that might be using old parking meters to collect donated funds, Anderson says.
Anderson adds he doesn’t think the problem lies with buskers — whom he believes add to the ambience of downtown — but with people causing safety issues at intersections and concerns for businesses and patrons in the downtown core.
There are already some rules restricting panhandling activities in the city, such as a bylaw prohibiting people from asking for money within 10 metres of a bank, and from sitting down while they panhandle. To help enforce those bylaws, and others, the city has also approved the addition of two more bylaw officers.
“Bylaw has told us they’ve had a lot more calls to deal with, problems not just with panhandlers but general issues,” Mayor Akbal Mund says. “You need the resources to deal with the problem.”
Council has also heard reports from bylaw staff that some panhandlers are earning as much as $30 to $40 an hour, Mund says.
“The best thing people can do is not give them money. Give the money to the organizations that actually provide resources to these people,” Mund says. “Part of the problem is people don’t understand the panhandlers wouldn’t be there if they didn’t get any money. That’s as simple as it is.”
The city is hoping to implement the plan as soon as possible, and the task force will be bringing recommendations forward at the next council meeting June 13.
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