Nfld. & Labrador

Dismissing panhandlers as lazy 'lets you off the hook,' says advocate

Uncomfortable at the sight of panhandlers? Dan Meades says maybe that's not a bad feeling if it helps bring about change.

Dan Meades, who's also a businessman, says the goal should be to reduce poverty

Anti-poverty advocate Dan Meades says panhandling is 'a visible symptom of an increased poverty rate.' (Paula Gale/CBC)

St. John's will have a better chance of ending panhandling if people are united, instead of divided by knee-jerk reactions and quick fixes, says an anti-poverty activist.

"Panhandling is a visible symptom of an increased poverty rate," says Dan Meades, a businessman who also lives in downtown St. John's.

"The way it needs to be addressed is we need to look at root causes of poverty and not a knee-jerk reaction to criminalizing or passing a bylaw that you can't panhandle on Water Street. That just ignores the realities of our city."

Meades says he thinks St. John's has seen an increase in the number of panhandlers on downtown streets. (Zach Goudie/CBC)

Last week, representatives of Downtown St. John's met with Coun. Debbie Hanlon at city hall to discuss the issues around panhandling. Some business owners said they have asked people to leave due to aggressive tactics.

"It's not all of them, but without a doubt there's probably over half of them that have more aggressive tactics," Craig Flynn, owner of YellowBelly Brewery, told CBC Radio's St. John's Morning Show last week. 

Meades said he has noticed an increase in panhandlers, but isn't as convinced that they are more aggressive. 

A choice?

Meades, co-founder of Third Place Cocktail Co., said people buy into outdated thinking when it comes to panhandlers in order to make themselves feel better. 

"It is really easy to say to be able to say to yourself, 'Ah, he can just go get a job if he wanted to, it's laziness.'… That's just not the case," Meades told the St. John's Morning Show on Monday.

"It lets you off the hook, right?"

Some owners of businesses, including YellowBelly Brewery, say panhandlers have become more aggressive in St. John's. (Zach Goudie/CBC)

Meades said several factors can affect employment, including a tough economy that can hit some harder than others, and mental health challenges, too. 

"If you've been living on the street, panhandling, it's very difficult to present well to get an interview," he said. 

'Let's work together'

Meades questions where the outrage or indignation from business owners currently speaking out against panhandling is on other issues related to poverty. 

"We don't hear them and come out and say, 'Oh, City of St. John's, you definitely can't increase the cost of transit for people living in poverty, low-income individuals or people with disabilities!' We hear nothing from some of the business community on this," he said.

"We want a thriving downtown, and the way we get that is by advocating for things that make sure everybody is prosperous.… Let's work together, let's end poverty and then we don't need to worry about [panhandling]."

With files from Ryan Cooke and St. John's Morning Show