An Armchair Mayor editorial by Mel Rothenburger.
THE LATEST ATTEMPT to do something about panhandling comes in Salmon Arm, where the City council has approved a $50 fine.
Controlling the unwanted aspects of homelessness is not easy, and politically risky.
You may remember when Vernon lawmakers decided, in their wisdom, to ban shopping carts from public property in hopes it would keep homeless people from — as one business person put it — “rambling down the streets” with them.
Fortunately, Vernon dropped the idea. Then, of course, there was the Kamloops RCMP’s own campaign to confiscate shopping carts from the homeless. The uproar resulted in a plan to design and build shopping carts especially for the homeless, though I don’t see any results of that on Kamloops streets.
As for panhandling, I don’t see it as a problem in Kamloops right now. Sure, everyone gets asked for “spare change” once in a while.
The answer is easy — “sorry, I don’t have any,” which is true because who carries change in their pockets anymore?
Maybe the cashless society is part of the reason this summer hasn’t seen an explosion of panhandling here. Or maybe the Kamloops approach is working.
Like several other cities, Kamloops restricts panhandling in locations like bank machines. Like Penticton, it prohibits people from sitting or lying on sidewalks (which doesn’t seem to be enforced). And, Kamloops has a $100 fine on the books.
Fines are always touted as a “last resort” and I believe that’s true.
The argument that if homeless panhandlers had money for a fine they wouldn’t be panhandling is valid.
However, any bylaw has to be backed up with penalties. Discretionary enforcement is the key to deterrence.
If it’s working in Kamloops and other cities, maybe it will work in Salmon Arm, too.
Mel Rothenburger is a former mayor of Kamloops and newspaper editor. He publishes the ArmchairMayor.ca opinion website, and is a director on the Thompson-Nicola Regional District board. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.