Opinion Column

Vancouver panhandling pains need political will

Leo Knight Prime Time Crime columnist 24 hours (PHOTO SUBMITTED).

By Leo Knight, Law and Order, 24 hours Vancouver

Political solutions are needed to curb panhandling in Vancouver.

Political solutions are needed to curb panhandling in Vancouver. (FILE PHOTO)

San Francisco has long been one of my favourite escapes for a getaway. A few years have passed since I was last there, but an opportunity arose to be — on Super Sunday — in the city that Seattle beat to earn the opportunity to win the big one.

As a side note, I went into an NFL store on the waterfront. You could buy a jersey for any NFL team except one — the Seattle Seahawks. No malice against their hated rivals, I'm sure. One city bar also had a mural on the front window of a 49ers fan peeing on the Seahawks logo.

Football rivalries aside, as I walked around the city — through Chinatown, the financial district, the waterfront, Fisherman's Wharf, Nob Hill, Union Square, the Mission District and other areas — there was a noticeable lack of panhandlers.

Unlike in Vancouver’s downtown core where, for example, a tourist walks out of the cruise ship terminal, turns left into Gastown and is descended upon like children going after an ice cream truck. Walking up from Waterfront Station on Granville Street, you are met with dozens of people with their hands out, some more aggressive and menacing than others.

As I walked along San Fran’s Market Street, which is like Robson Street on steroids, I couldn't help but notice the absence of panhandlers. I spotted a member of the city’s finest monitoring the queue awaiting an iconic cable car and decided to ask why.

Officer Mike Torres of the San Francisco Police Department was politically circumspect, but told me about the city’s “sit-lie” bylaw which, in his opinion, has had a significant effect. “Sit-lie” says people cannot sit or lie on sidewalks between the hours of 7 a.m. and 11 p.m.

It was enacted in early 2011 after a majority of the electorate approved it. This followed 2004’s aggressive panhandling referendum that prohibited the practice near ATMs and traffic lanes.

After spending four days walking around San Francisco, a city a little bit bigger than Vancouver and with similar social issues, I came across four panhandlers. Four. And all were polite, to a fault.

You can’t walk from the Bay to Dunn's Tailors in downtown Vancouver, a distance of roughly a block, and say the same thing.

If panhandling can be all but eliminated in America’s most liberal city, why not in Vancouver? It just takes a little political will.

Leo Knight is a former police officer, security expert and host of primetimecrime.com.  


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