Panhandler says Calgarians generous as cops say keep the change
James Irvine says thanks to a homeless agency he has a place to stay at night, when he can get to sleep
A homeless panhandler says Calgarians are generous and seeking donations in traffic is his preferred method but police are urging drivers to keep their change.
The money James Irvine gets from drivers helps him survive each day and thanks to a homeless agency he has a place to stay at night.
"The Drop-In Centre, when I can sleep, because of the headaches I get from the plate in my head," Irvine explains.
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"Couple of years back I lost my job and I have had issues. I was jumped on 17th Avenue and I was put in the hospital with a broken neck and I got a plate in my head from it, for asking for a smoke."
The native Calgarian says he now panhandles at intersections around Calgary.
CBC News found him at the intersection of 10th Street and Memorial Drive N.W. Friday afternoon, weaving in and out of traffic when the light turns red.
"It's a little bit better than bugging people on the sidewalk and in front of establishments. It gets me a bite to eat here and there, bus fare," Irvine explained.
"It is better than stealing or lying to people."
He says some Calgarians treat him with respect.
"I find a lot of people are more helpful in Calgary," Irvine said.
"They see someone down and out, they are willing to help and that makes me feel better."
On average he says he gets about $50 on a good day from drivers.
"Everybody seems to think you make way more than anybody else. I could be out here for five to six hours and make $20."
A top traffic cop says he wishes Calgarians would keep their change in their pockets when panhandlers like Irvine reach out.
"It sounds mean not to give them the money but trust me, there are a number of agencies that offer them the supports and the assistance they need to help them survive and thrive," Staff Sgt. Paul Stacey said.
"Giving them money at the side of the road offers no solutions whatsoever."
Stacey said panhandlers now have a greater coverage area.
"That in large part is due to the transit system, it is much improved. The C-Trains lines go further out. We tend to see this problem and the issues in the more outlying areas now, not just concentrated in the downtown," he said.
Drivers giving change at an intersection are putting everyone at risk, Stacey said.
"Sometimes they don't realize that the light has gone green and the traffic has started to move and then they will be darting in, almost like that Frogger game, trying to get in around traffic back to the sidewalk. It's a clear danger to the panhandler and obviously a risk to the drivers themselves."
The staff sergeant says the city's bylaw allows for $50 fines.
"There are a lot of agencies serving homeless and vulnerable persons that we work closely with. We will try and connect the panhandlers to these agencies so they can get the help and the assistance and the support that they need. That is really the better way to go about this than issuing a ticket that in all likelihood would never be paid anyway," Stacey said.
"It is not always in the public interest."
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Irvine says he has had a different experience with fines.
"Cops say, 'Get out of here, don't come back here. If we see you again we are going to give you another ticket and take you to jail,'" Irvine said.
"Usually people are quite friendly. I am surprised. Because a lot of the time I get in trouble with the cops and they tell me, 'people are scared when you come up to their vehicles.'"
Irvine says Calgary is his home.
"Calgary is a great place, there are a lot of helpful people out here."
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With files from CBC's Andrew Brown