Salmon Arm has become the latest B.C. municipality to impose a fine on people asking for money on city streets.
On Monday, council passed a bylaw amendment that allows officials to fine panhandlers $50 if they’re caught sitting or lying down on streets or sidewalks.
Panhandling on streets and sidewalks is already outlawed in the city thanks to a bylaw passed in May, which also prevents people from soliciting money within 15 metres of any bank machine, in a car or in other public places.
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The amendment now adds a price tag to the offence, but Coun. Louise Wallace-Richmond said it will only be used as a last resort.
“The minimum fine is just a way of saying in the event of a chronic situation, we have that tool in the tool box,” she said Thursday. “We don’t want to use that tool. It’s blunt, it’s not useful, it’s a sledgehammer.”
The staff report that put forth the fine also called it a last resort.
The bylaw and its amendment came after numerous complaints from residents about the number of homeless people in the city, Wallace-Richmond said.
She added people are “very uncomfortable being solicited every time they go to a bank, every time they go to a liquor store.”
But the councillor, who also chairs the city’s social impact advisory committee, couldn’t say what the protocol would be if people can’t pay the fine.
Only one councillor, Sylvia Lindgren, opposed the motion.
She said there’s a better solution to address the concerns of community members who might feel unsafe downtown.
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But Lindgren does agree it’s unclear how the bylaw would be enforced.
“It’s not like we can add it to their property taxes, because they don’t own a place. We can’t attach it to their driver’s license like some things are, because most of them probably don’t have one,” Lindgren said.
Wallace-Richmond said the idea is not to criminalize poverty.
“For as much of the feedback that it’s cruel and unusual, I would respectfully suggest that it is an act of compassion to set expectations very clearly,” Wallace-Richmond said.
“We are interested in the carrot. We are interested in motivation, we are interested in working with our community to make sure that nobody gets left behind. But in order to do that we have to create a framework where our expectations are very clear.”
Several groups including the RCMP and neighbouring towns were consulted ahead of the amendment, Wallace-Richmond said, but homeless people themselves weren’t present at those meetings.
“I have spoken personally to most of the panhandlers in Salmon Arm, they know who I am,” she said. “In terms of a formal policy, getting them to meetings, I can’t say that that happened.”
Lindgren said the people targeted by the bylaw should have been involved in consultation.
“These are real people with functioning minds that can think and act for themselves, and I think that if we had asked them for solutions, they might have been able to be part of the problem solving.”
Salmon Arm’s now-strengthened bylaw comes alongside a similar law in Penticton that allows officers to fine people $100 for sitting or lying on a downtown street or sidewalk.
That law only applies to select streets during the summer tourism season, whereas Salmon Arm’s bylaw applies to all streets and sidewalks year-round.
Kelowna’s own Good Neighbour bylaw, meanwhile, outlaws musical instruments on private and public property that could disturb the peace, quiet or enjoyment of the public, whether amplified or not.
The bylaw, which carries a minimum $100 fine, has been derided by critics who say buskers would be affected, many of whom are homeless.