Although panhandlers are on the Greater Sudbury Police Service’s radar, enforcement has not been their course of action in tackling the issue.
Enforcement “is just not getting to the root cause” of the issues that result in panhandling, Insp. Dan Despatie told Sudbury.com.
Rather than fine people for breaking the provincial Safe Streets Act, which prohibits certain acts of panhandling and can result in the levying of fines, Despatie said they focus instead on linking people with services that might prevent them from needing to panhandle in the first place.
“It's a connected web of social issues that lead people to having to get on the street and beg for money,” Despatie said.
“Giving you a fine is not helping you. It's not helping the situation, because you're coming back tomorrow, right? So let's go with an agency that can maybe get you some regular work.”
Included in Greater Sudbury Police Chief Paul Pedersen’s monthly report at Wednesday’s Police Service Board meeting was a statistic that 106 panhandlers were “moved along” and 23 were “warned.”
Sudbury.com connected with Despatie after the meeting for greater context on what this means.
“Moved along” isn’t strictly pushing panhandlers away, Despatie said, clarifying their efforts to link them with various social services is an integral part of their response.
“Warned” is basically the same thing, he said, but is directed at people who have already been moved along.
The provincial Safe Streets Act targets people soliciting in an aggressive manner, which includes threatening behaviour, obstructing the path of people and using abusive language.
A common sight in Greater Sudbury is also addressed, in which panhandlers set up at medians and walk alongside stopped traffic with signs soliciting money and/or food.
Not all panhandling is illegal, with the Safe Streets Act targeting specific acts of solicitation, which includes captive audiences. Listed among captive audiences is, ”While on a roadway, solicit a person who is in or on a stopped, standing or parked vehicle.”
This activity can be dangerous for both panhanders and motorists, Despatie said.
Greater Sudbury police have partnered with the city to create a public awareness campaign Despatie said is likely to take place this summer about panhandling, including tips on how to help out.
“That would include, rather than stopping your vehicle on the side of the street to reach out and give somebody money, let's donate to certain established agencies,” Despatie said, noting these are some of the same organizations police encourage panhandlers to avail themselves of.
During an October 2021 city council meeting, homelessness consultant Iain De Jong discouraged this kind of campaign, saying it “further polarizes” the issue.
Alongside the panhandler statistics included in Pedersen’s month-end report were the following other specialized operations statistics from February:
- Five foot patrols and 30 bike patrols were conducted downtown
- Three Mobile Crisis Rapid Response Team calls were responded to, in which officers attended and later requested the assistance of a mental health clinician.
- 27 Enhanced Mobile Crisis Rapid Response Team calls were responded to, in which an office and clinician responded together.
- 443 proactive community focused patrols were conducted to address high-crime complaint areas.
- 40 community meetings and eight community events were attended.
Other Greater Sudbury Police Service statistics from February include:
- 97 provincial offence notices were issued by the Traffic Management Unit, including 19 stunt driving charges and nine suspended drivers.
- 22 drivers were charged with impaired offences, including 19 by alcohol and three by drug.
- Seven Reduce Impaired Driving Everywhere (RIDE) spot checks were conducted.
- A 2.5-day Commercial Motor Vehicle Blitz took place in which 65 charges were laid and five trucks were pulled off the road for being unsafe.
- Four significant tactical incidents were responded to, including a weapons and threats call, robbery, break and enter and dangerous situation involving explosives.
- More than 500 kms of motorized snow vehicle patrols took place in Azilda, Chelmsford, Walden and Coniston, during which contact was made with 185 snowmobilers.
- The Provincial Liaison Team attended two protests at Lo-Ellen SEcondary School and College Boreal to ensure the safety of all involved with respect to drag presentations.
- The 911 Emergency Communications Centre received 5,287 calls in February.
- Approximately 7,300 police events were generated, of which 731 were high priority calls for services.
Tyler Clarke covers city hall and political affairs for Sudbury.com.