Panhandler permit?


I read an interesting idea recently about how to confront the challenge most big cities in North America have and that is panhandlers. In the city of Toronto, this problem has increased substantially over the last few years and the panhandlers which used to only beg for money in downtown Toronto have stretched their range and can now be found in the suburbs as well. There are many possibilities on how to confront this challenge but, it is a tricky issue to tackle.

Firstly, I would never call what panhandlers do for a living to be a service or of any value to a community or society. I think that there are always other options other than being a beggar, which is exactly what panhandling is. One idea was to ban it all together but then you are left with a group of people that are unemployed and need to be given a job somewhere. Another idea is to regulate it in a similar way that street vendors are in Toronto and likely other major cities. That is, pay for a license and register themselves with the municipal government which will allocate a specific area for them to do what they do. With that license, they may have to pass a test or course and adhere to some code of conduct.

That idea is interesting and might be doable. However, unlike street vendors, panhandlers are disliked by a majority of people and there is a good chance that many complaints would be made about each one even if they didn’t do something wrong. This would make the rules of their license very difficult to enforce. Also, the penalties for violating those rules would have to be significant to deter the panhandlers from violating them. With street vendors, monetary fines and bad publicity is usually enough to make them conform to the rules. However, financial penalties alone may not be enough to scare panhandlers as they may not have traceable bank accounts and credit to maintain.

I would say that jail time must be part of the penalty arsenal that can be used against them but, for some of the panhandlers I have seen, it looks like jail would be a step up for them. Without the fear of jail time, it almost makes the police enforcement useless and for the ones that are also homeless, they may violate the rules just so that they can go to jail and have a bed to sleep on indoors.

Perhaps for some panhandlers (the ones that are not homeless) a permit can work and even generate some revenue to the municipal government. This would likely be the only real value their work does for the community and society so for that reason alone, I think that idea is worth exploring.