Business owners take aim at panhandlers

'When you work downtown and you're stepping over bodies . . . there's a problem'

December 13, 2012 01:00 AM

Funny Pages Collectables owner Dave Carmichael holds a copy of the city bylaw on panhandling.

The owners of Funny Pages Collectables are finding aggressive panhandlers, dogs and drunks downtown to be anything but laughable.

In fact, David and Judy Carmichael say they are often fearful of the vagrants on the streets, as are other downtown business owners.

On Wednesday, they put out a call for those other business owners to join them - along with people who work in tourism, the RCMP, City bylaws, the SPCA and ASK Wellness.

"The panhandlers come, they come in groups. It's intimidating," David Carmichael said.

"When you work downtown and you're stepping over bodies, you're stepping around aggressive panhandlers and dogs, there's a problem," he said.

Outside his store, located at 373 Victoria St., he sees panhandlers hanging around a bank, swearing at the elderly woman in the jewelry store, and loudly bothering pedestrians and shoppers walking by.

Carmichael sweeps his front doorstep every morning. One day, he found a knife and drug paraphernalia.

"We're just trying to do business, trying to stay alive in this recession."

Most of the time, bylaws and RCMP officers just get the panhandlers to move on. Carmichael said he's seen them return soon after the officers are gone.

Ticketing them isn't worthwhile because they can't afford to pay the fines.

Last Saturday, Carmichael said there was no security outside the Civic Building at Fifth and Victoria. Drug deals were being conducted openly. He's also watched drunks at 10:30 p.m. on a Saturday night picking fights in the streets.

He's had customers say they won't come downtown again.

Judy Carmichael said they've watched a family walk across the street to avoid panhandlers. And the busloads of tourists who stay in downtown hotels aren't left with a good impression, she added.

They've talked with many business owners and the Kamloops Central Business Improvement Association. Six businesses are joining in with them so far, and the BIA has invited them to next week's regular meeting.

Chris Neilson, a panhandler, said he understood Carmichael's concerns, agreeing people don't want to be bothered by requests for money, so his approach is to have a sign with a happy face saying "Merry Christmas" and "anything helps."

Neilson was on the ground outside the CIBC bank on Victoria Street in a sleeping bag with a shopping cart full of possessions beside him.

He said he cleans up his garbage when he leaves and moves when asked, but he knows other panhandlers create messes outside of businesses.

The former heroin addict said a methadone program here has saved his life and he's looking for housing through ASK Wellness.

KCBIA manager Gay Pooler could not be reached for comment, nor could City bylaws managers.

In the meantime, the Carmichaels are handing out copies of the City's panhandling bylaw to build awareness. Passed in 2003, the bylaw states no one shall panhandle between sunset and sunrise, no one shall sit or lie on a street to panhandle, and it sets no-go zones 10 metres from entrances to banks, ATMs, liquor stores, bus stops, churches and movie theatres.

"Apathy and ignorance is not the answer," David Carmichael said.

ASK Wellness street outreach worker Ken Salter said he was told by City community safety and enforcement manager Jon Wilson that there is no panhandling bylaw.

"This is an issue we were discussing last week. Jon felt we were hooped because there was no bylaw," he said.

Salter hasn't seen a dramatic change in panhandlers of late, but he has noticed more dogs accompanying them. With housing already hard to find, the panhandlers are making it even tougher by having pets.

"I don't think it's any worse in Kamloops than it has been in the past. The dog thing is an issue for me. People have the right to choose to be homeless if they want, but the dog doesn't get that choice," he said.

Salter knows of five men sleeping on the beach or in tents who all have dogs. He didn't know what will solve the problem, but suggested it will take a community effort.

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