Nfld. & Labrador

Research project hopes to bridge gaps between panhandlers and the public

A common thread among panhandlers is disconnect with society — so how do we fix that?

Common thread among panhandlers is disconnect with society — so how do we fix that?

The City of St. John's and outreach group Thrive have partnered on a survey about panhandling. (CBC)

A new survey is looking to learn more about panhandlers in St. John's, and find out how their fellow citizens feel about them.

The project is being undertaken by researcher Amnesty Cornelius in partnership with Thrive and the City of St. John's.

"It is a lot more complicated than addiction, homelessness, etc.," Cornelius said. "It is a vicious cycle of poverty and that starts with systematic change."

The people behind the survey hope the information they gather will help shape that change in the future.

"An inclusive panhandling strategy is a route to healing for people," said Ellie Jones, program director with Thrive. 

Many panhandlers in St. John's have a roof over their heads, but only on a precarious basis with no access to stable, reliable housing, said researcher Amnesty Cornelius. (Curtis Rumbolt/CBC)

"It is a route, it is a way out, so that people can reach a point of stability. That's why it's so important to hear from the community and also allow us to find a way to build that bridge between panhandlers and the rest of us."

The survey asks people about their perceptions of panhandlers, their interactions with them and their understanding of the circumstances that can lead people to be asking for money on the street.

Speaking to panhandlers hasn't been a challenge so far. They've been keen to speak, Cornelius said, with many remarking that they were happy to be heard.

Connections are key

While it's too early in the research to draw any conclusions, Jones said, a common thread among panhandlers in many jurisdictions is a lack of connection to the community around them.

If this survey can help shed light on how to bridge the divides, it could pay huge dividends, she said. 

"Often people, to cope with that sense of disconnect, they turn to alcohol and drugs," Jones said. 

"What we know is the answer to that is connection. The more that we include people and give them the opportunity to be part of the community, the [more] we reduce the reliance on drug use or on alcohol."

The survey is available on Thrive's website and will be posted until January. Once the new year rolls around, they'll dive into the data and see what it shows.

They are also looking for focus groups — anyone interested in taking part can contact Thrive for more information.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from The St. John's Morning Show