All of the many newspaper stories, letters, and editorials regarding panhandling on Baker St. over these past months have been enlightening in many ways. It seems that opinion varies from the one extreme of run all the panhandlers off Baker St. to the other extreme of allowing unrestricted panhandling.
The reasons in favour of panhandling are just as varied, everything from one city councillor’s assertion that if we do not allow panhandling the destitute of Nelson will turn to crime to the claim that some tourists come to Nelson to enjoy the street scene and if we regulate panhandling we will lose tourist dollars.
Most pro opinions are more moderate and centred around the fact that there are people in Nelson who feel they need the money they make from panhandling to survive. If this is in fact true it would be cruel to place too many restrictions on panhandlers.
To me, the obvious solution is to license panhandling in the same way we license busking. No one seems to feel that regulating busking through licensing is restrictive or unkind. To busk in Nelson you need to go to the police station and fill out a short form. You then pay a small fee. Of course, we should not charge panhandlers any fee to receive their permits.
In return, the busker gets the protection of the regulations on busking. So long as the busker abides by a few simple rules they cannot be made to move along and need not worry that they will be harassed by the authorities.
If we issued the same sort of permits to panhandlers they would enjoy the same protections as those enjoyed by buskers. In addition, the permit application forms could help street workers identify which panhandlers are resident in Nelson and which are transient and thus be able to tailor help according to what is needed.
Permits are a good idea. They do not restrict a panhandler’s right to solicit money on Baker St. Permits will help social workers identify and help people in need of aid. Permits will ensure that panhandling can continue on Baker St. with less stress for everyone involved.
Tira Evans, Nelson