It is ironic to note that during the Christmas season when “giving” and “sharing” are so important, 70 per cent of Winnipeggers want to crack down on people who beg for money and squeegee at busy intersections.
What is it about actually seeing people in poverty rather than just giving money through a charity that makes people react so differently?
Why is the City of Winnipeg’s administration developing recommendations for a possible bylaw prohibiting individuals from panhandling or conducting business from intersecting boulevards when Winnipeg already has the strongest anti-panhandling and anti-squeegeeing bylaws in Canada?
The panhandling bylaw has been changed many times, from dealing with “behaviour” to now dealing with the “location” (not in front of bus stops, banks, etc.). Squeegeeing, however, has been completely banned since 1997.
It is important to remember that so-called “progressive” then-councillor Glen Murray initiated the anti-panhandling and anti-squeegeeing bylaw back in 1997, specifically because the businesses in Osborne Village were concerned about those activities.
The result is that the police occasionally ticket panhandlers and squeegee kids, but tickets, more often than not, are discarded. The courts often ignore these bylaws by not forcing those who have been ticketed to appear in court or by simply tearing up the tickets and saying that it is a foolish bylaw that cannot be enforced. Panhandling and squeegeeing will continue, no matter what.
The suggestion of an even tougher bylaw, which would not only allow police to ticket panhandlers, but remove them and direct them to more “suitable” locations, is beyond comprehension. The police don’t have enough time to take care of the more serious crimes in our city, never mind moving a panhandler to a different location.
The bylaw would also ban motorists from giving money to squeegee kids and panhandlers. This would be a serious violation of freedom of expression and assembly for motorists, squeegee kids and panhandlers, and would be totally unenforceable.
Unfortunately, the city has never bothered to examine who panhandlers and so-called squeegee kids are.
The fact is that those who were squeegee kids in the 1990s are now “squeegee adults” like “Drew” who is 49 years old and has been squeegeeing at Portage and Maryland for a long time.
“Since I’ve been doing this I’ve been feeling a lot healthier and the money I do make takes a lot of the stress off. You know, I’m eating better,” he says.
Perhaps we ought to consider squeegeeing a job – people are providing a service they should be paid for.
The question of safety and well-being of others by squeegee kids and panhandlers was dealt with in 1998 by the task force launched by the Social Planning Council.
It suggested that squeegeeing be licensed by the City of Winnipeg and that squeegee kids be placed strategically throughout the city to ensure the safety of both parties.
Nick Ternette is a community and political activist, freelance writer and broadcaster living in McFeetors’ Hall at the University of Winnipeg.