Sunday, June 12, 2016

Downtown Vernon petition highlights panhandling frustrations

by Richard Rolke - Vernon Morning Star posted Jun 12, 2016 at 6:00 AM— updated Jun 12, 2016 at 7:00 AM
The debate over panhandling is gaining strength in downtown Vernon. Some merchants recently expressed concern about panhandling in a survey, and the issue is also being raised with city hall.“Nothing is getting done,” said the business owner who organized the petition but did not want her name used. “The Downtown Vernon Association and the city say they are doing something but I don’t see anything.” The business owner says the survey highlights frustration among her colleagues. “They are getting robbed and people are high and hanging around their businesses. Women call us on their cell phones and say, ‘There is a scary guy outside and we are scared to come in your store.’” Another 30th Avenue merchant is also outraged at what she is experiencing. “I have people sitting at a bench with garbage spilled all over. They are going up to vehicles (and asking for change) before the person can even get out,” she said. “Customers are asking if it’s safe to be downtown. A tourist was asked for money four times before she got into the store. It takes the flavour away of going downtown.” The merchant wants the bench in front of her store removed but the city refuses. “They aren’t listening to the downtown businesses. These businesses pay taxes and support the citizens of Vernon,” she said. “It’s not prejudice against the homeless but we could manage it better.” The organizer of the survey insists she wants to help individuals in need. “On all parking meters there should be stickers that say no panhandling and signs that say help the homeless by donating to the Upper Room Mission or other charities,” she said. “By giving money (to panhandlers), you create this problem — drugs and alcohol.” The DVA has discussed the social issues. “We often see an increase in the transient population in the spring,” said Lara Konkin, DVA executive director. “There seems to be a little more aggression among some individuals but it’s not necessarily panhandling. We are trying to identify what the actual issue is. We have to be careful about the perception we are giving to the public.” Annette Sharkey, with the Social Planning Council, is following the matter closely. “If it’s aggressive or unsafe, it’s illegal and needs to be addressed,” she said. “But others are doing it in a more unobstructive way. I don’t think it’s any more intense for Vernon than for any other community. I work downtown and walk around and I don’t feel unsafe.” The city recently appointed a task force to look at panhandling. “We will bring back recommendations on how to move forward at Monday’s council meeting,” said Coun. Juliette Cunningham, a member of the task force. “We have constructive suggestions coming forward.” =========
Staff Report on Panhandling at Page 121-135 of Council Agenda Package for Monday.

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