One Vernon councillor wants to take action on aggressive panhandlers.
Scott Anderson believes incidents of aggressive panhandling are increasing around the city.
He cited a recent online article detailing multiple assaults on a Vernon street vendor which prompted hundreds of social media calls for the city to do something.
Anderson produced a five-page Facebook handout featuring hundreds of complaints about downtown panhandlers.
Anderson wants a crackdown.
“By all accounts aggressive panhandling is getting worse, and especially so over the past two years,” said Anderson. “It’s time council stepped up to the plate and did something about it.”
Anderson made it clear that his speaking out should not be seen as an attack on the homeless.
“We should, and are, doing everything we reasonably can to provide help to those who need it,” he said.
“But our citizens have a right to be able to walk downtown without being plagued at every step by someone asking for or demanding money. And our business people have a right to conduct business without being constantly harassed. I walk downtown and every single block has at least one or two people sitting there with their hand out. Some are more aggressive than others.”
Coun. Juliette Cunningham has owned a downtown business for 26 years and agrees people are uncomfortable with panhandlers.
However, in her experience, Cunningham said she has rarely felt intimidated.
“If I’m asked for money, I say, ‘not today, sorry,’ and, to be honest, nine times out of 10, they’ll answer, ‘God bless you or thank you,’” said Cunningham.
“I’ve had a lot of experience on this topic. Some businesses don’t even want a homeless person on a bench in front of their business. They just don’t like it. But we are still living in a free country. I would never support aggressive panhandling. We do have bylaws in place and we have the RCMP that can deal with those individual that become aggressive.”
Coun. Catherine Lord said, from her perspective, she hasn’t seen an increase in aggressive panhandling.
“Yes there are people panhandling, but there are an awful lot of people who are going the other way to earn some money,” said Lord. “I don’t particularly have a problem with panhandlers. The one’s I’ve seen have been pretty good. If somebody gets a little aggressive, say no and keep walking.
“To me it’s not a real problem and I don’t want to make it a real problem and I don’t want to get to a point where the perception is out there that it’s a real problem.”
Cunningham said the city must be careful about “ramping up the rhetoric on this.”
“With all due respect to social media, if people have an issue, they can come to us,” she said. “To keep ramping it up on social media without coming to the proper agencies that can help them…we have to be very cautious on this.”
Clint Kanester, the city’s manager of protective services, told Anderson panhandling complaints to his office have been down in 2015.
“We’re down about 30 per cent,” said Kanester. “The statistics were up significantly last year because of one particular individual.”
Anderson did not make a motion on aggressive panhandlers in Vernon, citing the need for more research into potential solutions, but promised to address it again in the near future.