If you’ve spent time around the downtown core, it’s likely you’ve encountered some form of panhandling. But do you know the best way to handle these situations?
The Have a Heart – Give Smart campaign from the City of Edmonton is aimed at educating Edmontonians on panhandling and how to help someone in need. We caught up with 104 Street’s community liaison, Constable Dexx Williams on the subject.
Why is it better to give to agencies that help those in need than directly to the panhandler?
“While those who wish to give money to panhandlers believe they are helping them in a tough situation, we (the police) have often found that these individuals have actually used that money towards purchasing illegal narcotics as well as alcohol. Many of these individuals already have substance abuse problems, so panhandling is a way they generate funds to obtain the substances they are addicted to.
By giving money to local agencies instead, their financial contributions will definitely be put towards providing food, clothing, and other necessities for those in need. The money is then also used to support programs and outreach workers that can help get individuals off of the streets and into a more stable environment.”
What are some tips for responding to panhandlers?
“If an individual encounters a panhandler harassing individuals or deterring customers away from a business, they can call the non-emergency line for the Edmonton Police Service at 780-423-4567.
Another option is to simply ask the panhandler to move along from the location, especially when it is on private property as opposed to a public sidewalk, however if they are displaying aggression, call police instead.”
What constitutes an aggressive panhandler, and what should you do if you encounter one?
“When most people think of panhandlers, they think of a passive individual sitting on the sidewalk with a hat or something similar out to collect spare change from pedestrians walking by them. Some panhandlers will hold up signs stating they need money for food (which they can already obtain for free at multiple locations throughout Downtown).
An aggressive panhandler is more intimidating in their approach. They will typically raise their voice or yell at pedestrians walking past to “ask” for money. Some of these individuals will even block the path of pedestrians walking past, or reach out their hands at them, all in an attempt to scare them into giving them money.
Basically, an aggressive panhandler will almost give a vibe that they may use violence if they don’t receive money, borderline personal robbery, but without actually stating as much. They may also suffer from mental health and/or addiction issues which also make them highly unpredictable.
Needless to say, if individuals encounter an aggressive panhandler, contact the non-emergency line at 780-423-4567 right away so patrol members can deal with the individual appropriately.”
Are there any other forms of panhandling, that the public may not be aware is panhandling?
“It’s not uncommon for panhandlers to come up with creative stories to tug on the emotional strings of good natured people. I remember one individual even went as far as buying an empty jerry can, then walking around Downtown pleading for money to buy gas for his van which broke down—that also contained his wife and children—who were stranded on their way to Red Deer. He did that story for a couple of weeks until a lot of people started to recognize him.
Busking—performing on the street—could be considered a type of panhandling, but is allowed on most properties with the permission of the owners. In Edmonton’s transit locations (like pedways) permission is required from ETS, etc.”
Anything else to add?
“When in doubt, or if you have an uneasy feeling about an individual or situation you are seeing, please call the police. We’d rather be notified before something occurs than afterward.”
It’s ok to say “No” to panhandling and “Yes” to giving. To find agencies that accept donations on behalf of people in need, call 2-1-1 or visit 211edmonton.com.