Nelson council rejects panhandling bylaw

The majority of councillors want to give the Nelson Street Culture Collaborative time to get started on its work.

The majority of councillors want to give the Nelson Street Culture Collaborative time to get started on its work with the downtown street population.

Nelson council voted 4-3 on Monday night to put off a decision on its proposed panhandling bylaw until September of 2017 to let the Nelson Street Culture Collaborative do its work.

On May 2, when the bylaw passed third reading, it was 4-3 the other way. The difference was councillor Michael Dailly voted for the bylaw then and against it now.

Dailly told the Star in an interview that as a member of the Nelson Street Culture Collaborative, he is in touch with the opinions of people in the social services sector who work with the street population.

“The members of the collaborative say that this would be an aggressive way to deal with these people and that it would not work. It would raise the aggression level not reduce it.”

He said the collaborative will be hiring an outreach worker in September of this year and he wants to see the results of that first. And he said the collaborative will be teaching a course in mental health first aid to agencies, businesses, and the public.

“I want to see that impact first. I would rather have a community that is aware of what the symptoms of what mental health distress are, and I am not sure a bylaw can do that. Aggressive panhandling, I am suggesting, is a mental health issue.”

Mayor Deb Kozak voted in favour of the bylaw and expressed disappointment at the result of the vote.

“The issues of poverty and mental health will take time to deal with,” she told the Star, “but in the meantime I think we need tools to help manage the situation right now. The bylaw is not perfect but it will help police and bylaw officers in extreme situations.”

Councillors Bob Adams and Janice Morrison agreed.

“The police say they need another bylaw,” said Adams, “so we should let them have it, and look at it after a year and see what it does.”

Morrison agreed that this would be an opportunity to try out the bylaw.

“As much as the collaborative is doing great work, they are not in a position to take real action at this time,” she said.If we never have the bylaw out there, we never know if it is the right tool. We could use it this summer, doing education about it at the same time, and get reports from bylaw enforcement about how it works.”

The bylaw contains several provisions that are also in the provincial Safe Streets Act, such as prohibiting panhandlers from obstructing the passage of pedestrians, touching a person, continuing to approach a person who has given a negative response, approaching in groups of two or more, obstructing traffic, panhandling people in parked vehicles or vehicles at a stop light, and panhandling within five metres of an ATM, pay phone, or public washroom.

However, according to city staff, those Safe Streets Act provisions are hard to enforce because it would require a police officer and a provincial court procedure. Putting those behaviours in a local bylaw solves that problem.

In addition to the provisions of the Safe Streets Act, the bylaw would prohibit panhandling within five metres of a financial institution, bus stop, bus shelter, liquor store, movie theatre, sidewalk cafe, or place of worship entrance; panhandling after sunset; impeding access to a business; panhandling from people at a sidewalk cafe; and panhandling for more than one hour in one place within a given four-hour period.

At Monday’s meeting, it was Councillor Anna Purcell who first suggested postponing the bylaw until September of 2017.

“There are so many moving parts around this issue,” she said. “Most of us are not at peace with it. There are some potential benefits around the bylaw, but we have heard from people who work with the street culture that this will not address what we hear some citizens complaining about. And when we hear them complaining it is not really about panhandlers, so we wanted to give the street culture collaborative an opportunity to hire an outreach worker and give them a chance to (work) during the warm months which is why we decided on September, 2017.”

Purcell said municipalities do not create the issues that are on the table, but are expected to solve them.

“They are product of federal and provincial policies around impoverished children, mental health, minimum wage, income support programs, and we see the effects of that on our streets. Asking people who need help to move along every hour might make them increasingly marginal and desperate, and I don’t think that people are helped by making them feel that way.”

Voting against the bylaw and effectively postponing it until September, 2017, were councillors Dailly, Warmington, Cherbo, and Purcell.

Councillors Adams and Morrison along with Mayor Kozak voted in favour of the bylaw.

The full text of the bylaw is attached below.

Panhandling Bylaw & Policy by BillMetcalfe

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