Vernon rolls out aggressive panhandling response

Plan allows residents to donate to local charities while enforcement will also continue

New meters in downtown Vernon allow residents to donate to agencies that help those in need.

New meters in downtown Vernon allow residents to donate to agencies that help those in need.

Attempts to minimize aggressive panhandling have hit the streets of Vernon.

The city has rolled out its new panhandling strategy, which includes signage, targeted enforcement, public education and ways for residents to support community agencies.

“The goal is to address issues of illegal panhandling on (road) medians,” said Coun. Juliette Cunningham.

“We don’t want to tolerate aggressive panhandling.”

While panhandling is not illegal, panhandling to vehicles is, and is a violation of the B.C. Safe Streets Act and city bylaws.

Additionally, bylaw officers will be targeting aggressive panhandlers, which is a violation of the Safe Streets Act.

Aggressive panhandling can include threatening the person being solicited with physical harm, obstructing the path of the person being solicited, using abusive language or continuing to solicit after a negative response has been given.

“I’m hoping to reduce panhandling because we’ve had numerous concerns expressed,” said Coun. Scott Anderson.

Aggressive panhandling should be immediately reported by calling 250-550-3505.

The city has also installed five kindness meters, in which residents can donate change, which will then go to the John Howard Society, the Upper Room Mission and the Salvation Army.

“Giving money to panhandlers may not be the best way to help people as it can perpetuate the cycle of panhandling and addiction,” states a city release.

“The city is creating signage and information pamphlets that discourage giving change to panhandlers in favour of donating to recognized local charities that offer services to homeless people in our community.”

Cunningham believes the kindness meters will prove successful.

“I saw a person with a bag of coins feeding a  meter. People do have empathy,” she said.

Anderson is also confident about the city’s approach.

“The strategy is a compromise between various people on council. I support it,” he said.