The Downtown Surrey Business Improvement Association is going on the defensive against aggressive panhandlers.
Incidents of aggressive panhandling have been rising with the warmer temperatures and the BIA has been receiving more complaints from members who feel the practice is detracting from the changing streetscape of the revitalized Surrey Centre downtown core.
â€œItâ€™s a disruption,â€ said the BIAâ€™s CEO, Elizabeth Model. â€œWhen there are panhandlers basically loitering around your business, the perception is not extremely good for inviting customers in.â€
In order to tackle the problem, the BIA has hired a summer student, Alex Dibnah, to research panhandling in the city core and investigate what has worked to curb it in other jurisdictions.
The 19-year-old SFU criminology student said the Surrey Central SkyTrain station is one of the magnets for panhandlers.
â€œWhat we want to do once we identify the hot spots is to educate the public not to give donations to street people, but we want to set up a program with the Surrey Urban Mission where there will be a donation box,â€ Model explained.
Under the 2004 B.C. Safe Streets Act, aggressive panhandling or solicitation is prohibited by law. Panhandling that is not aggressive, and is conducted away from a captive audience, is not illegal.
Police have the right to issue a violation ticket on the spot or a notice to appear in court to individual offenders, and can arrest panhandlers if they repeat the offence.
Captive audience solicitation is illegal under the Act, too, and includes panhandling while a person is unable to leave a location, such as waiting for a bus or sitting in a car at a stoplight.
Charles Gauthier, president and CEO of the Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association, said his group has also noticed an uptick in aggressive panhandling in the past three months, and has been making reports to police and the City of Vancouver, particularly as cruise-ship season begins and tourists become targets.
â€œItâ€™s enough of an increase that itâ€™s been of concern to us,â€ Gauthier said, adding that he correlated the rise to the closure or renovation of Downtown Eastside SROs.
Gauthier added that while the BIA has tried many approaches to curb panhandling over the years â€” from public education to patrols â€” the real decrease came after city government pledged to build housing for the homeless and improve health and social services in 2008.
For more stories by the Province, click here.