Panhandlers curbed in Abbotsford

A problem with panhandlers at traffic medians has prompted Abbotsford Police and city hall to address the issue with signage.

  • Apr. 7, 2012 8:00 p.m.
A panhandler takes coins from a charitable motorist on South Fraser Way at the Abbotsford Village Shopping Centre. The city recently installed no panhandling signs (inset photo) at this intersection and several others.

A panhandler takes coins from a charitable motorist on South Fraser Way at the Abbotsford Village Shopping Centre. The city recently installed no panhandling signs (inset photo) at this intersection and several others.

by Vikki Hopes and Kevin Mills, Abbotsford News

Signs installed at three high-traffic locations around Abbotsford are reminding panhandlers they are not welcome.

The “No Panhandling” signs have been erected by the city, following a request by the Abbotsford Police Department, at three traffic medians along Sumas Way – at South Fraser Way, Barrons Way and McConnell Road.

Const. Ian MacDonald said a particularly aggressive panhandler was the impetus for the move.

Police and the city received numerous complaints last year when the man stationed himself on the traffic island at Sumas Way and McConnell Road (near Costco).

He held a sign requesting money, and charitable citizens often obliged.

MacDonald said the problem was that he became a hazard, often causing drivers to brake suddenly as they pulled up beside him or held up traffic behind them.

There were also concerns that the man would be hit by a car if he slipped onto the road while walking along the median.

Similar concerns were expressed about panhandlers at other intersections.

MacDonald said police felt a simple solution – at least to start – would be to remind people that, under City of Abbotsford bylaws, panhand-lers are not permitted to approach drivers in parked cars or at traffic lights.

At first, the panhandler at McConnell Road held up his own sign to block the “No Panhandling” reminder, but he has since moved along. So have panhandlers at the other intersections sporting the signs.

MacDonald said panhandlers tend to move from city to city, and Abbotsford, as a growing city and a transportation hub, can expect to see them.

However, public safety is the priority, he said.

Gordon Ferguson, manager of bylaw enforcement for the city, said panhandling is covered in the consolidated good neighbour bylaw.

He said the bylaw is designed to regulate, but not forbid the activity.

“Panhandling is not illegal … You can’t prohibit it from happening,” he said, adding that could lead to a legal charter challenge.

Restrictions include:

• Panhandling within 10 metres of the entrance to a financial institution, an automated teller machine, a bus stop, a bus shelter or the entrance to a liquor store;

• Panhandling from the occupant of a parked car, one stopped at a traffic light or one stopped for loading or unloading;

• Panhandling after sunset;

• Lying or sitting on a street for the purpose of panhandling; and

• Continuing to panhandle from a person who has given a negative response and/or following them.

All infractions carry a $75 fine.

David Eby, executive director of the BC Civil Liberties Association, said Abbotsford is not alone with this issue. Many communities are struggling with what to do about panhandling and visible homeless.

However, he doesn’t believe more enforcement of bylaws is necessarily the right answer.

While safety concerns have to be addressed, he said, “Any type of enforcement action needs to be matched with aggressive advocacy by communities like Abbotsford, to say, ‘Why is it that we have so many people who are begging for change on our street?’ ”

Of all the safety issues faced by homeless, including assault, cold weather and other unsafe scenarios, Eby said being hit by a car while asking for change is low on the list.

He empathizes with the city because he knows there are few resources, but suggests there have to be options other than threatening them with fines or jail.