As 2015 comes to a close we reflect on one of its key issues. The panhandling by-law has been requested by the Nelson Police Department, bylaw officers, business, community groups and citizens alike. The actual by-law has been set aside until spring while staff and city council ponders the issue, looking for solutions.
The trepidation over individuals panhandling on city streets is an issue of concern for many businesses, police forces and other municipalities across the province. Nevertheless, this issue goes way deeper than low income people panhandling on the street.
As the cost of living has gone up over the years, income assistance to help people in need has not increased sufficiently. The former federal government and our current provincial government have left the responsibility to engage people with no housing and low incomes to local law enforcement and municipalities.
Some of us can remember when there were no food banks and only around Christmas time were food hampers given out to needy families. While the minimum wage has increased, it is nowhere near a living wage for people to survive. Volunteer-run food banks have become normal for society and for many people living on low, fixed incomes. Everyone from businesses to individuals contribute to food banks, while the number of people and families who have to access food banks continues to increase.
As the number of good paying jobs has decreased, income assistance, income supplements, old age pensions and Canada pensions have not increased sufficiently to meet a living wage. Even though the lack of money continues to affect low income people, the provincial government has reduced office hours in the area for the staff who deal with people who require income assistance.
Fortunately individuals, volunteer groups, businesses and grocery stores help out by giving money and food supplies to food banks along with charities and religious groups providing hot meals and emergency homeless shelters, but it does not solve the basic problem that people do not have enough money to live on.
A panhandling bylaw will not solve the situation for people with low incomes. The only solution for people with low incomes is to provide a living wage and housing to start to address the some of the problems. Hopefully no one goes without the necessities this holiday season while volunteer groups provide emergency shelters, hot meals and help people access sufficient healthy food to live on. As some people are going through difficult times this season we hope they find comfort and we wish everyone Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.
Nelson city councillor Robin Cherbo shares this space each week with his council colleagues.