Some panhandlers drawn to suburbs, where they can rake in hundreds in hours

Some Calgary panhandlers are venturing out of the city's core for the prospect of good money and less aggressive competition.

One man tells CBC News even his worst days can be 'still really good'

Some Calgary panhandlers are making the move to the suburbs. As one man tells CBC News, it can be more lucrative. (Dave Will/CBC)

As shoppers make their way in and out of the big-box anchor of a suburban shopping centre in Royal Vista, in Calgary's northwest, many stop to dig into their pockets or purses and drop loonies, toonies, even bills into a hat on the ground

That hat belongs to Jonas, who spoke to CBC News on the condition that his real name not be used for fear of repercussions, primarily from other panhandlers.

Jonas's story reflects what's neatly written on a cardboard sign that sits next to his overturned ball cap: "Welder, father of 3. On med leave trying to make ends meet. Anything helps. God bless."

Jonas says he has been suffering seizures for more than a year, and it has been impossible to ply his trade. Unlike many other panhandlers, he has a home and says panhandling helps his family make ends meet.

$400 in 3 hours

"I was out of work for quite a while … and I was just doing this on and off because I seen other people doing it and I did extremely good at it, actually — like really, really good at it."

So good, in fact, that Jonas says he does "extremely well" on his best days, and his worst days are "still really good."

How good?

"On a good day, I can make $400 doing this in three hours."

The key to Jonas's success? Getting away from downtown and into the city's suburbs. 

"People are a little more generous — a little less jaded, I guess — than they are downtown. A lot of people that see panhandlers downtown know that they're going to do drugs, because they're visibly drinking and doing drugs."

'Less competition, less danger'

The flow of panhandlers to Calgary's suburbs has been noticed by those who work with them.

Matt Riley, the basic services manager at the Mustard Seed shelter, says that while hard data may not exist, he sees more and more people moving away from the city's centre to ask for money.

"People on the outskirts of the city are maybe more generous," said Riley.

"There's less competition, less danger, and, I believe, more opportunity for them to get some finances or get that ask met."

Matt Riley is the basic services manager at Calgary's Mustard Seed. (Dave Will/CBC)

Riley says some panhandlers may feel more safe outside the city core with less potentially aggressive competition.

"There's less people pushing them off the streets," he said.

"One thing that comes with doing that [downtown panhandling] is territories. Some people will be on a corner and that's their corner no matter what."

Police not surprised by income claims

Jonas's income claims don't surprise Const. Jessica Wood, who is the community resource officer for the Calgary Police Service in the downtown area. 

"If it wasn't lucrative for the people who are panhandling, they wouldn't continue with the behaviour," Wood said.

"I have heard that people can make upwards of a hundred dollars an hour, so that sounds about right to me."

Wood believes it's the generous nature of Calgarians that drives panhandlers, but she says the police would rather see people show support in other ways.

"We do have shelters. The Drop-In Centre does provide three meals a day to any Calgarian … so there are agencies who can support them. It's always better to look into maybe something that you're passionate about as a Calgarian that you want to support, find out what that agency is, and maybe donating that way."

One man tells CBC News he can collect up to $400 panhandling in some Calgary suburbs as opposed to the city core. (Dave Will/CBC)

Panhandling rules in Calgary

Panhandling is not illegal in Calgary, but the city does have regulations on when, where, and how it can take place.

Under Calgary bylaws:

  • Panhandling is not allowed within 10 metres of the entrance to a bank, ATM, transit stop or pedestrian walkway (sidewalks are an exception).
  • Panhandling is not allowed between 8 p.m. and 8 a.m.
  • Panhandlers can't block people being solicited, walk next to them or follow them.
  • Panhandlers can't ask for money from people in vehicles.
  • Panhandlers can't continue to engage with someone who has declined the solicitation.

About the Author

Dave Will


Dave joined the CBC Calgary newsroom in September 2017 after 25 years in radio and television broadcasting in Alberta. Dave works as a reporter, video journalist and news reader at CBC Calgary.