City unveils package of short-term measures to reduce panhandling
New pilot projects will engage with panhandlers, try to find them jobs — and keep them off Winnipeg boulevards
Winnipeg is rolling out a trio of pilot projects aimed at reducing what Mayor Brian Bowman calls "unsafe panhandling."
On Friday, Bowman said the city is responding to an increase in reports of aggressive panhandling with its package of short-term measures, including a summer outreach program led by the Main Street Project, a Downtown Winnipeg BIZ effort to find jobs for panhandlers and the placement of barriers at some intersections to prevent panhandlers from wandering across.
"We're not expecting that this is going to be a cure-all for unsafe panhandling or panhandling in general, but we think it might be a way to better collaborate and leverage existing resources in the community," said Bowman, standing at the northeast corner of River Avenue and Osborne Street, an Osborne Village panhandling hotspot.
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The mayor pledged to reduce panhandling earlier this year during his annual State of the City speech.
On Friday, he said the term "unsafe panhandling" is preferable to "aggressive panhandling" because the latter term may stigmatize people at risk of homelessness or those who suffer from mental illness.
"We really are ultimately talking about the safety of folks panhandling in and amongst traffic," Bowman said.
Difficult to quantify
The mayor said he has heard anecdotal evidence panhandling is becoming a bigger problem in Winnipeg. The phenomenon is not easy to quantify.
The Winnipeg Police Service dealt with 561 incidents involving panhandlers in 2017, up from 419 in 2016, said Const. Jay Murray, a police spokesperson.
There had been 105 such incidents this year as of March, Murray said.
The city has an obstructive solicitation bylaw, which was brought in during the Sam Katz administration to deal with aggressive panhandlers.
So far this year, Winnipeg police have not issued any tickets under that bylaw. Six citations were issued under it last year, and just one the year before.
But Murray warned the number of tickets under the bylaw is not a strong indicator of panhandling activity, as police may detain panhandlers on the basis of outstanding warrants, breaches of court orders or because panhandlers are intoxicated.
The city also announced longer-term measures to deal with panhandling, including a public-awareness campaign and new design standards for boulevards.
Anti-poverty advocate Ray Eskritt said she was not impressed.
"They could attack the root of the problem and make it so people don't have to panhandle, instead of putting up these Orwellian barriers that make people less safe to get their basic needs met," she said.
While Bowman's announcement was not presented as a campaign event, mayoral challenger Jenny Motkaluk criticized the incumbent mayor for using city resources so late in this council term.
"I think it's very clear that what we just saw was a campaign announcement," Motkaluk said, speaking to reporters on the opposite side of River and Osborne.
"The mayor is talking about implementing some policy that he's not going to be able to do unless he's re-elected this fall. He doesn't have enough time. There's only 80 days left in this mandate."