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Scott Thompson: Should you give to a panhandler, or an organization that can help them?

29-year-old David Levuc strolls between vehicles stopped at a red light on 16th Avenue North, begging for change.
29-year-old David Levuc strolls between vehicles stopped at a red light on 16th Avenue North, begging for change. Sarah Offin / Global News

Have you noticed an abundance of panhandlers in the area of late?

No, not the typical panhandlers who may sit on a sidewalk on a busy street with a cap out, hoping for some spare change.

This is about the panhandlers who dart out onto a busy street when traffic is stopped at a light, then proceed to walk beside as many cars as possible, hoping for someone to roll down a window and give them a donation.

I can’t help but think they seem a bit more organized than the average person down on their luck.

READ MORE: Burlington will not issue fines to drivers who give money to panhandlers

Often, you’ll see a few of these opportunists at various intersections on the same block, looking the same, carrying the same type of sign — a little odd, considering most homeless people you see are on their own.

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Over and above issues of poverty and fraud is that of safety. Many are concerned this is a distraction to drivers, while some fear for their well-being, especially women, being approached when it’s least expected while operating their vehicle.

Burlington mayor Marianne Meed Ward pitched an idea that instead of going after those who are begging, why not go after those who are making the donation?

That would mean ticketing drivers who hand over money to panhandlers while behind the wheel.

WATCH: Coverage related to panhandling on Globalnews.ca

The mayor’s position was supported by councillor Rory Nisan who suggested a public communications strategy could be set up to encourage those people to donate to a local charity that helps such individuals, instead of handing over money in traffic.

Is this any different than the “squeegee kids” of days gone by, who used to gather at intersections and ask for money to clean your windshield?

What happened to them? Is this just a newer version of the same age-old issue?

Or what about the “shaky lady” or “sticker lady” who were made famous in the Toronto media for panhandling by day and driving home to the suburbs at night, after a successful day of fooling the generous?

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READ MORE: Panhandlers on Salmon Arm sidewalks may be fined $50, thanks to new bylaw (July 12, 2019)

No one is discouraging from giving to those who have fallen on hard times, but how do you tell when the need is real, as opposed to those trying to make a quick buck under the guise of poverty?  Does that help those who really are in need or make others who may donate think twice?

It appears the mayor’s suggestion was quickly quashed when a City Of Burlington media release came out shortly after, clarifying, “The City of Burlington is not pursuing a by-law related to ticketing drivers giving to panhandlers on Burlington streets.”

Clearly, the backlash was viewed as bigger than the problem, but that doesn’t mean the issue is resolved.

It simply means this is a political hot potato no wants to touch. Kudos to the mayor for at least trying to address it.

It only makes sense to give to those charities who can help these individuals with long-term solutions, rather than a quick fix out the window to make us feel better.

But is it government’s place to tell citizens who they can — and can’t — donate to?

The problem continues.

Scott Thompson is the host of The Scott Thompson Show on Global News Radio 900 CHML.​​​​

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