The city is looking into changes that would further restrict panhandling.
The city’s planning, development and community services committee recommended Monday that councillors vote in favour of a series of changes to the panhandling bylaw.
If approved, the changes would make it illegal to ask for money within two metres of a parking pay station, or within eight metres of the entrance to a theatre, cinema or performance venue.
The recommendations started with the city’s street activity steering committee (SASC), made up of police and representatives from Saskatoon’s Business Improvement Districts (BIDs).
Along with the changes affecting parking meters and theatres, the SASC wanted to restrict panhandlers to either sitting or standing still, and to forbid them from operating near bars or restaurants that sell alcohol.
However, administration recommended scrapping those changes, stating panhandling has been ruled a legal activity by the courts, and cities are forbidden from creating bylaws that would make panhandling forbidden on entire city blocks.
The administration’s report also noted that the city’s current bylaw already forbids panhandlers from following people to ask for money and forbids panhandling near liquor stores, banks and ATMs.
In its recommendations ahead of Monday’s committee meeting, administration suggested that rather than creating a buffer zone around parking pay stations, council ought to change the bylaw to prohibit panhandling while someone is ‘actively using’ one of the stations.
This caused concern for Coun. Zach Jeffries, who said he worried the wording wouldn’t protect people waiting in line to use the stations.
Ultimately, this led the committee to settle on a two-metre buffer around the pay stations, as the five metres originally asked for by the SASC was deemed excessive.
Jeffries asked for administration to add a report on how other cities regulate panhandling around establishments that serve alcohol, saying it was worthwhile information to add to the discussion coming up at the next full council meeting on Dec. 12.
Coun. Troy Davies asked administration about enforcement and communication plans, saying he was concerned about the prospect of having a raft of tickets issued to panhandlers.
Lesley Anderson, the city’s director of planning and development, said the changes would mainly be communicated and enforced by the Community Support Officers (CSOs). She said the CSOs emphasize warning people and informing them of the rules, writing tickets only as a last resort.
Mayor Clark says changes won’t solve issues
On the Brent Loucks Show Tuesday morning, Mayor Charlie Clark said he’s not a “big fan” of the proposed changes to the city’s panhandling bylaw.
“I’m concerned about the logistics of this,” he said.
“Creating all these little buffer zones and trying to essentially move people around will not address the concern of safety.”
Clark said the city already has an aggressive panhandling bylaw in place, with appropriate allowances for community support officers to enforce.
The mayor suggested the city focus on looking at the support systems in place for those who panhandle, such as mental health and addictions programs.
“To get people off the street and in stable situations, rather than chasing them, having tape measures out around pay stations figuring out if they’re within the distance,” he said.
Clark ended off saying he doesn’t believe the proposed measures will create the desired change.