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Thoughts from those with their hands out

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Photos by JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS 
Peter Dunn (top) agrees aggressive panhandlers can pose a problem. He says he never runs up to cars.  Kevin Leblanc (above) holds a sign that says �everybody hurts sometimes� at the intersection of Osborne Street and Broadway.

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Photos by JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Peter Dunn (top) agrees aggressive panhandlers can pose a problem. He says he never runs up to cars. Kevin Leblanc (above) holds a sign that says �everybody hurts sometimes� at the intersection of Osborne Street and Broadway.

If Gord Steeves has a problem with aggressive panhandlers, he's got company.

Mostly, other panhandlers.

But one of them, Peter Dunn, had another message: You can't stop him from asking for money for sustenance.

"I don't bother anyone," said Dunn, 46, standing at the intersection of Notre Dame Avenue and Keewatin Street Friday afternoon.

"I'm not interfering with traffic. I'm not in front of a business or a bus stop or a restaurant. It's the law that I can (panhandle) for sustenance. I know the law."

Dunn also knows that Steeves' vow to round up panhandlers is not the first controversy involving the homeless.

"If he tries to open war on us, it won't look good for him," Dunn said. "That could hurt him. He's already in hot water for what his wife said (on a four-year-old Facebook post) about 'drunken Indians' in the walkways."

Then, Dunn offered some advice. "She should have said she didn't like being accosted by drunken people downtown, period. Because it's not just native people. It's white people, black people."

Still, Dunn agreed aggressive panhandlers can pose a problem.

"I never run up to cars to hustle them," he said. "I don't like those squeegee guys who run up to your car and wipe your windows then expect money. That's what people don't like. I wouldn't want anyone near my car... if I had a car."

Dunn stands at the same intersection two or three days a week. He can make $10 to $50 in a few hours. He holds a sign that reads: Spare Work. Change. Anything helps. God Bless.

"I've never been aggressive to anybody," said Dunn. "I only go up to cars that call me over. I'm polite. I don't get in anyone's face."

As Dunn was being interviewed, a man in a minivan pulled up and handed the panhandler a bag with a cheeseburger and fries. Driver Ed Differ said he noticed Dunn while driving by a few minutes before and took the time to order food at a nearby hamburger joint.

Differ said he isn't afraid of or offended by panhandlers. "The ones that are really poor have no place else to go," he said. "But I don't give money. I only give food."

At the intersection of Osborne Street North and Broadway, Chris Fey -- after being notified that Steeves believes some motorists are intimidated, "particularly women" -- was quick to concur with the mayoral candidate.

"Some of them do," said Fey, 23, who is homeless. "There are aggressive panhandlers. They're very rude. But that hurts us because there are a lot of people who are actually in need."

As Fey and his friend, Kevin Jacques Leblanc, were taking turns at the intersection, one woman sitting in her car was asked if she had "a problem" with panhandlers. "Yes," she said. "I think there are other programs we can use to support them."

Asked if she'd had a bad experience with a panhandler, the woman, named Deb, said: "No, I find them respectful."

Across the street, Kristin Aho was waiting for a bus on Broadway. When asked about her experience with panhandlers, she said, "If they're aggressive, that's intimidating. I used to work at Portage and Main where there were a lot of people asking for money. More often than not, they're polite. But if there wasn't a lot of people around, you feel unsafe."

But Aho doesn't believe any legislation, at any level, can rid the city of panhandlers.

Fey, meanwhile, said he began begging on the street a couple months ago, after battling a drug addiction.

"I was starting to think about going out and stealing things," he said. "I mean, I have no money for food. No place to live. But my friend said, 'Chris, you don't have to steal. People will help you.' He was right. It makes me feel good that people who don't even know me will help me. Previously, I didn't think people gave two f--ks."

randy.turner@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 30, 2014 A4

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