Nfld. & Labrador

'A really silly argument': Removing panhandlers not a solution, says activist

Dan Meades says Coun. Art Puddister's argument haa no grounds and won't address the real problems that lead people to panhandling.
An anti-poverty activist says simply removing panhandlers from busy intersections in St. John's won't address the real issues. (CBC)

A plan by one St. John's city councillor to get police to remove panhandlers from busy medians is not a real solution to the problem of poverty, said one activist.

Coun. Art Puddister this week said the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary will be cracking down on people panhandling is medians at busy intersections, like outside the Avalon Mall and Village Mall.

But that plan doesn't address the actual problem, said Dan Meades, with the Transition House Association of Newfoundland and Labrador.

I feel like his argument is so stupid I feel like we shouldn't subject your viewers to it.- Dan Meades

"It's a really silly argument. Two years ago Coun. Puddister brought this forward and he was told by the RNC that it wasn't against the law, that these individuals could do this," said Meades, in an interview on Here & Now.

Meades said Puddister's argument that panhandlers are violating the Highway Traffic Act by "conducting business" on a roadway has no grounds, since "obviously these individuals aren't doing business."

"I feel like his argument is so stupid I feel like we shouldn't subject your viewers to it. I don't think Coun. Puddister even agrees with his own argument," he said.

"The truth is, this is just a way to criminalize poverty. These individuals are poor, they're trying to get by, they're standing on a median asking for money."

RNC responds

In a release Thursday, the RNC stated its enforcement to remove panhandlers from some intersections is a "public safety issue," but that police don't have the authority to fine or prosecute anyone for asking for money.

"It doesn't appear that the problem is that these folks are standing 'in the middle of the road,' but rather on the [median] and occasionally approach stopped vehicles. There is no legislation that would prevent them from doing that," said Const. Geoff Higdon.

Police also said they recognize most panhandlers are doing so out of poverty or disability.

Addressing the real problems

Dan Meades says what's needed to address panhandling is to deal with mental health issues, addictions and the affordable housing crisis. (CBC)

Meades said simply arresting panhandlers isn't going to fix the core problems, mainly addictions and mental health issues, as well as a lack of affordable housing in St. John's and the rest of the province.

"Before this tough provincial period we've been looking at we had a 15 per cent poverty rate, and doubtlessly this provincial budget is going to push thousands and thousands more people below the poverty line," he said.

"Unless we start addressing some of these root causes and start treating our communities with some compassion and really addressing what's happening in our communities, we're going to continue to see this. And locking folks up is certainly not the way to do it."

Meades added the RNC likely has more pressing concerns than arresting people who are asking for money. 

"What he [Puddister] needs to do is address poverty, to address mental illness and addiction in his community," said Meades.

"That's his obligation to his constituents, is to handle those problems, not to just gloss over them by taking them so people can't see them every day."

Panhandler in St. John's

6 years ago
Duration 5:14
Christopher says he has to panhandle to deal with his opioids addiction and to eat.

With files from Jonathan Crowe