(Black Press file photo)

Surrey cracking down on panhandling after spike in complaints

Downtown Surrey BIA is calling for changes to medians to help deter panhandlers

The City of Surrey says it’s cracking down on panhandlers after a spike in complaints this summer.

“Enforcement has increased over the past few weeks. We’ve had complaints about them, about traffic being obstructed, and the dangers of pedestrians coming in and out of intersections,” said Jas Rehal.

“So the last two weeks we did targeted enforcement. Prior to that we tried to talk to them, do some education, and ask them to move on. But that didn’t work. So we’ve stepped up enforcement along King George Boulevard, and 152nd Street, too.”

In that time, 20 municipal tickets have been handed out, said Rehal, under the city’s highway traffic bylaw.

Tickets are $80 each, he noted.

“It’s something that’s concerning,” said Rehal. “You don’t want people getting hurt, you don’t want to see panhandlers getting hurt, or accidents being caused. We’ve really seen an increase in probably the last month, month and a half.”

“We don’t see that much in other months,” he added. “We don’t know if its just related to summer months or other issues in the region. We’re going to see if what we’re doing from the enforcement side helps, then we will sit down with engineering department.”

Rehal said there are some intersections in Surrey where fences are put up in the middle of medians — an idea that he said could be explored if enforcement doesn’t make a dent.

“That’s something we will have to sit down with engineering and review. Hopefully we can address it,” said Rehal.

See also: Trash, discarded needles and loitering top business concerns in downtown Surrey: BIA

The Downtown Surrey BIA’s 2018 safety audit, released this month, identified panhandling as an increasing concern of businesses in the area.

The BIA aims to help deal with panhandlers by educating businesses, but also has plans to “advocate to the City of Surrey’s Transportation Department to change the medians so people are unable to panhandle at intersections” along King George at 108th, 104th, 102nd, 100th and 96th Avenues “where panhandling is found on a daily basis.”

Surrey RCMP Corporal Elenore Sturko tod the Now-Leader that it’s not illegal for drivers to provide money to panhandlers.

“It is only illegal for an individual to solicit under the Safe Streets Act and Motor Vehicle Acts of B.C.,” she noted.

If police come across someone panhandling, Sturko said officers “will request the individual to move along advising them it is for their own safety.”

“We are mindful that these individuals are conducting themselves in this manner due to personal issues,” she added. “It is quite dangerous for these individuals to be walking and sometimes sitting on a median in the middle of the roadway. They could slip and fall into traffic and be injured. They could distract drivers and cause vehicle collisions. Most times these individuals move along.”

Police can also arrest individuals who are panhandling, she noted, “if the officer has reasonable and probable grounds to do so to stop them from continuing their panhandling.”

“They would be subsequently issued a violation ticket and released,” Sturko said. “This is a last resort for the police as we are more concerned about their safety as mentioned above.”

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