Now harder to panhandle in Red Deer

Red Deer City council is restricting when and where panhandlers can approach people on downtown streets.

The new restrictions, part of the Community Standards bylaw, were passed by council on Monday. Panhandling is now banned between 5 p.m. and 8 a.m. and can only be done by individuals. Earlier recommendations allowed two people to approach pedestrians.

Panhandlers also can’t approach people if intoxicated or under the influence of illegal substances and can’t panhandle within 10 metres of an entrance to a financial institution, automated teller, bank deposit slot, liquor store or transit terminal.

Obstructing pedestrians, or threatening, insulting or harassing behaviour is also not allowed. Fines start at $75 for a first offence and go up to $500 for repeat offences.

Councillor Tara Veer asked for the amendment to 5 p.m. from the 6 p.m. time recommended by City administration because this was when many downtown businesses closed and was a popular time for panhandlers.

Discussion by council included banning panhandling completely, but the City’s legal department says that wouldn’t be allowed because panhandling is recognized by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Mayor Morris Flewwelling spoke about a successful program in Portland, Oregon where people can buy coupons and give them to panhandlers instead of money. The coupons can then be redeemed for food and other necessities by the panhandlers. Many people are reluctant to give money to panhandlers because the money is often used to support addictions.

Councillor Paul Harris voted in favour of the changes to the panhandling bylaws, but said, “I think we have to do some more work on this. I like this idea of people having a coupon, or some kind of token to give to panhandlers for food and other opportunities.

“We need to explore that idea and we haven’t done that here. I will be looking at what they do in Portland because that makes really good sense,” he said. “People can have a couple of tokens in their pocket to give to panhandlers instead of money.”