Progress on panhandlers – comment/editorial – Progress on panhandlers
May 07, 2008

Banning panhandlers from city streets and slapping them with $100 fines does not address the underlying mental health and addiction problems at the root of this social malaise. And it clearly doesn’t work.

So it is commendable that Toronto’s executive committee unanimously voted this week to expand its much-heralded $8.7 million Streets to Homes Program. The expansion – still to be confirmed by council – would add another $2.5 million this year and $4.9 million next year for permanent housing and social supports to address the real issues of the needy people who panhandle.

The program was introduced in 2005 after the city banned the homeless from sleeping in Nathan Phillips Square. Since then, it has found housing for 1,750 people, and nearly 90 per cent are still housed.

Remarkably, only a year after business and tourism organizations and downtown ratepayers demanded city hall forcibly move panhandlers from the streets, Mayor David Miller and his staff have managed to get all of these groups onside in support of expanding this initiative.

City staff set out to work with the stakeholders as well as the panhandlers to find a better solution. Even the police, who previously supported a crackdown on aggressive panhandling, now acknowledge that approach doesn’t work. Of 10,584 tickets issued last year under the Safe Streets Act, 75 per cent were not paid.

The only remaining criticism of this approach is that it won’t get enough bang for the buck. So in approving the expansion of the program, council should ensure that there are measurable targets.

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