Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Hey pal, got an answer? Project uncovers problem of aggressive panhandlers

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Downtown is widely seen as panhandler central, but one spot in Osborne Village tops the list of formal complaints about aggressive begging.

Data obtained after a freedom-of-information request show police have received 130 complaints over the last three years about aggressive panhandling. That's a fraction of the 250,000 calls for service police answer in an average year.

According to the data, the intersection at River Avenue and Osborne Street has the most aggressive panhandlers with five complaints over three years.

Other high-complaint areas include Marion and Goulet streets in St. Boniface and the intersection of Broadway and Osborne Street, where many panhandlers go from car to car at red lights.

"The numbers are relatively low, but they still cause people a lot of grief and make people feel uncomfortable, especially older people or vulnerable people who do not know what to do," said Winnipeg police spokesman Const. Jason Michalyshen.

Complaints about aggressive panhandling are made by both businesses and individuals. Safeway owns the lot on the northwest side of River and Osborne, the No. 1 hot spot for aggressive panhandling.

All of the businesses on the lot must follow Safeway's panhandling policies and must call Safeway's security to deal with panhandlers or loiterers. Safeway officials say they have a zero-tolerance policy for loitering and panhandling.

"When incidents of loitering occur on the perimeter of our lot, we work with the Osborne Village community policing to address concerns," said John Graham, director of public affairs and government relations for Canada Safeway Ltd.

Bogie, who asked that his real name not be used, was a regular panhandler at the corner of River and Osborne but, he said, he was repeatedly hassled by police. He has since moved to a spot beside the Dumpster between Shoppers Drug Mart and Movie Village on the Safeway lot.

"It's better than stealing. I'd rather do this than steal. If you're going to steal from Safeway, you're going to go to jail. At least this way the cops don't bother me," he said from his spot.

Many people walk by and give him their spare change. An employee of Shoppers Drug Mart talks to Bogie as he takes out the trash and people driving by wave from their vehicles. He said he is here every single day, no matter the weather. It is his day job and he stays out from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

"I don't harass people. If they give me money, they give me money. If they don't, they don't," said Bogie.

"You don't see me crying over spilt milk. There's lots in the store."

Of the 130 complaints under the city's panhandling bylaw, the police charged 18 people with aggressive panhandling.

This means they were either asking for money in an undesignated place such as in front of a bank or a bus stop, kept approaching a person after they said no, or scared someone with their request.

"We don't arrest someone every single time. There's certain circumstances," said Michalyshen. "Maybe the panhandler didnt know that what he was doing was wrong. We find out the circumstances behind the complaint and then make a decision."

In some cases when a complaint is made, the police begin investigating aggressive panhandling but find evidence of another crime such as public drunkenness or assault. This was the case in May when Faron Hall, better known as Winnipeg's homeless hero, was charged with assault when panhandling.

Under the bylaw, the ticket can be as high as $1,000.

When a panhandler gets a ticket, officers do not enter a fine amount on the ticket, police said.

It's up to a judicial justice of the peace to decide the ticket amounts based on the circumstances. Manitoba Justice says they have no record of anything like this.

This makes it difficult to tell who has been charged under the bylaw and whether the fine has been paid.

Interactive map

Larger dots on the map below indicate a larger number of complaints at that location.  Click on any dot to see details about complaints at that location.


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Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 1, 2012 A6


Updated on Saturday, December 31, 2011 at 7:44 AM CST: adds map

7:59 AM: adds colour photo

January 1, 2012 at 2:38 PM: made correction - judicial justice of the peace decides fines

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