Give beggars a break - and some change

Graeme Bacque (gbacque@arcos.org)
Mon, 15 Jun 1998 06:10:42 -0400


 (This editorial frankly surprises me, appearing as it does in the normally
right-wing Toronto Sun.)

            June 15, 1998  The Toronto Sun

            Give beggars a break - and some change

                                           By MARIANNE MEED WARD
                                                  Toronto Sun
                         Walking down the street recently, I saw the
remnants of a panhandler's cardboard
                        sign. It said: "Will work for food ... sex, money,
or crack."=20
                         While it was hard to get my head around the
concept of someone being willing to
                        work and receive payment in sexual favors, I smiled
at the panhandler's creativity.
                        At least the guy was willing to be flexible.=20
                         Had the individual still been around, I probably
would have donated (money, in my
                        case) just for making me laugh.=20
                         But it seems that Toronto the Good's patience with
panhandlers has passed.=20
             Toronto Councillor Ila Bossons has drafted a set of rules that
would prohibit panhandling after
            sunset and before sunrise; within 10 metres of a transit stop,
subway entrance, bank branch,
            automated-teller machine or liquor store; from someone in an
automobile; or while lying in a park or
            on the sidewalk. Panhandlers would also have to leave someone
alone who has already said no.=20
             The intent is to protect the good citizens of T.O. from
hearing a lecture on generosity while they're
            waiting for their bus, or from feeling guilty about having
spent a fortune on an old bottle of Chianti
            for this weekend's bash but stepping over the homeless guy in
the wheelchair asking for a dime.=20
             Proponents will tell you the rule's aim to protect us from
being chased down the streets at 2 a.m. by
            menacing panhandlers who won't take no for an answer.=20
             I've been on the streets past 2 a.m. many times in my nine
years in Toronto, but I don't recall being
            chased by someone holding an empty foam cup begging me for
change.=20
             More often, I'm the subject of unwanted catcalls from a group
of drunken men in a sports coupe.
            That's far more threatening to me than a homeless wretch asking
for a quarter for a coffee, but no
            one is proposing bylaws to crack down on wolf whistles.=20
             I'm sure some panhandlers are aggressive, but it's foolish to
make rules based on an exception. You
            end up trying to swat a flea with a demolition ball, and in
most cases you miss the flea (but you
            destroy everything around it).=20
             The proposed rules will do little to solve the problem of some
ill-mannered beggars.=20
             Nothing in the rules prevents panhandlers from asking for my
money at 8 p.m. as I leave Loblaws,
            having just spent $150 on groceries.=20
             Nothing prevents panhandlers from insulting my miserly
attitude if I refuse to part with a few
            nickels. Nothing, in fact, prevents them from lecturing me all
the way to my car. Police aren't likely
            to be patrolling local grocery stores to catch unruly beggars,
nor should they be.=20
             There are other ways of dealing with harassers besides
Bossons' demolition ball approach.=20
             There are rules against stalking, against loitering, against
watching and besetting and against being
                     A general public nuisance, among others. These can
easily be used to stop anyone causing a
            disturbance any time of the day, whether by aggressive
panhandling or some other offensive
            behavior.=20
             If these rules aren't being enforced, why do we think the
proposed laws targeting panhandling will
            be?=20
             Neither is the solution to dump more money into social
services to try to eliminate panhandling.
            Rather, we need an attitude change about panhandling, and we
could try being more generous.=20
             In biblical times, begging was considered an appropriate way
to earn a living if you couldn't

            otherwise work. Instead of being shuffled out of sight to
hostels, panhandlers sat at the entrances to
            city gates greeting all who came and went.=20
             The presence of panhandlers isn't necessarily a sign of a
city's ill health. It might just as easily be a
            sign of the generosity of its citizens.=20
             Presumably, panhandlers would leave town if no one ever gave
them anything.=20
             The proposed bylaws say more about us and our own prejudices,
guilt and fears, than about the
            behavior they're intended to combat.=20
             =20

            Marianne Meed Ward is managing editor of Faith Today.

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