Halton Regional Police Service (HRPS) along with City of Burlington staff and Council have been alerted to a number of individuals asking for money in front of a few local businesses and on some roadways.
Panhandling in and of itself is not a crime, and our City does not have any bylaws making it an offence. There was no staff direction related to ticketing and the city is not pursuing a bylaw related to ticketing drivers as a result of the discussions from the Planning and Development Committee meeting on Sept. 10.
We as a city do not have the legal authority to create a bylaw or issue tickets related to Highway Traffic Act violations, including the activity of drivers in moving vehicles on municipal streets.
At our P&D, a report from the City Manager’s Office was submitted, updating us on what has been done and what we’ve learned from other municipalities. Click the link to read the full City Manager’s Office report: CM-19-19 Addressing Panhandling.
In the report, Halton police describe how it has been dealing with panhandlers and the safety of these individuals and generous drivers on the road:
- The Halton Regional Police Community Mobilization Bureau has reached out to all known individuals asking for money in the streets. These individuals were offered services including emergency shelter and food banks information as well as the Integrated Support Network where Regional Outreach Workers attend locations and assist in applications for services. To date, very few of these contacted individuals have expressed an interest in obtaining offered services.
- Officers have noted that not all of these individuals are homeless and that many of the panhandlers have admitted to not being connected with the City of Burlington. A large number of the panhandlers also admitted they commute to Burlington from other areas due to the generosity of the citizens of Burlington.
Halton’s experience with panhandlers is not alone. According to a CityTV investigation in the City of Toronto, most panhandlers in Toronto have not taken advantage of the social services provided by the City. The investigation noted that it costs Toronto $2 million to enforce the Safe Streets Act with only 3 per cent of the fines being paid.
Currently in Ontario, there are two pieces of provincial legislation that deal with panhandling with respect to public safety: the Safe Streets Act and the Highway Traffic Act.
Safe Streets Act:
- Created in 1999 to curb what was seen as a rise in aggressive behaviour by people asking for money on the street, including through “squeegeeing.”
- The provincial legislation is only activated when a panhandler at an intersection is doing one of two things:
- soliciting in an aggressive manner, for example while intoxicated with alcohol or drugs or continuing to solicit a person persistently after the person has responded negatively to the solicitation (this does not include standing at an intersection with a sign); or
- soliciting while on a roadway people in a stopped vehicle — the important phrase here is “while on a roadway.” Roadway is defined as the travelled portion of the highway and does not include the shoulder, curb or median. The only time the panhandlers go onto the road is to collect funds, not to solicit. (Halton police noted if there are any issues to public safety, they will will respond.)
Highway Traffic Act:
- Amended in 1990
- States no person, while on the roadway, shall stop, attempt to stop or approach a motor vehicle for the purpose of offering, selling or providing any commodity or service to the driver or any other person in the motor vehicle.
- The amended provision now makes it an offence for a person to approach a motor vehicle while on a roadway to sell a service such as squeegeeing a driver’s windshield.
Inspectors from Halton Police have also provided City of Burlington staff with regular updates on sightings and interactions with panhandlers. On June 26, 2019, staff were informed that there had been only one panhandler seen on the streets. On Aug. 8, 2019, we received another update from Halton Regional Police indicating that during the three weeks prior, they had not seen any panhandlers on the streets. Panhandling observed does no break provincial laws or municipal by-laws.
Motion at committee
The motion that the P&D Committee carried (that will head to Council on Monday, Sept. 23 for a final vote) included:
- Direct the City Manager and the Director of City Building to:
- Continue to work with the Halton Poverty Roundtable (part of the United Way) as part of their broader communication to residents about poverty; and
- Update the city’s website to provide information on how residents can assist those in need including donating money; and
- Prepare communication material for ward-specific newsletters with information for residents; and
- Continue to work with the Halton Regional Police to monitor panhandling on streets in the City; and
- Create a social media campaign to provide information to the public that will link to the information on the City website; and
- Provide information in an issue of the City Talk newsletter with in the next year that will also provide a link with how to get more information on the City website; and
- Report back to the Planning and Development Committee by Q3 2020 on what initiatives have been completed and what impact they have had.
- City of Burlington Media Statement: No Bylaw or Staff Direction for Ticketing Drivers Giving to Panhandlers in Burlington
- Burlington City Council Passes Recommendations from Sept. 10 Planning and Development Committee Meeting
It is so important for our media to be in this room with us. I want to thank them for being at City Hall and reporting on what happens in Chambers. Some people can’t be here and rely on the media for their reports. The media got it wrong in this case. Although there was a discussion of road safety and a possibility of ticketing drivers as an option to deal with this, that option was voted down. The headline and the article said the city was seeking ticketing. That was wrong.
However, what this did was open a conversation across this country. I was interviewed by news agencies in Vancouver about this. This is specifically about the activity of panhandling happening on and in our streets. This City decided to go ahead with a communications plan. We’re not ticketing drivers and that’s not what came out of Committee either. I remain concerned about the potential safety risks. In photos, you will see individuals go across multiple lanes of traffic to get change and then going back to the safety of the median.
This communication plan is also to spread awareness of where to go for help and supports in our Region and how they can be accessed. What message are we sending to the community if we say, in order to get the help you need, you have to walk into traffic. We have to do better — we must do better and we will.
I mentioned the option of police giving tickets (or preferably a warning) to drivers for careless driving for giving money to panhandlers at busy intersections. This would be a chance to educate drivers that this behaviour puts drivers and pedestrians, including panhandlers, at risk and isn’t the best way to help those in need.
If they can pull drivers over and educate them that what they’re doing isn’t safe, that could also be an opportunity to hand over a pamphlet that shows how the driver can help in better ways.
No one should have to stand in a median and put themselves at risk to get help. As a society, we need to do more.
Poverty is often — but not always — related to issues of mental health. We have a caring community and that is why it is so effective for folks to ask for money.
True that to date, there have been no safety issues, but that is to date. We don’t want to wait for an accident to happen before we do something. I do believe there is a safety issue – that has always been my concern, and we’ve been lucky there hasn’t been an incident.
We really do need to send the message if drivers truly want to help people, $10 donated to an agency can be leveraged into more funds because of their partnerships, to help many more people than that single donation ever could. Donating to someone on the street is not safe and not good fundraising. We need to continue to help the people in need in our community in the best ways possible.