Signage will soon be going up at a number of the Cowichan Valley’s major intersections to help discourage panhandling.
The signs that will say “Panhandling on roadways is unlawful and unsafe. Please consider giving to agencies that help those in need” will be placed at the intersections of Trunk Road and the Trans Canada Highway, Coronation Avenue and the TCH, and Cowichan Way and Trunk Road, Duncan’s council decided at its meeting on Jan. 20.
Another sign at the intersection of Drinkwater Road and the TCH, which is in North Cowichan’s jurisdiction, will be considered by that municipality at a later date.
The initiative by the Safer Working Group, a partnerships between local governments in the Valley, the police, social and health agencies and the business community, is intended to help deal with the fact that there has been a significant increase in panhandling from medians in the Valley in last few years.
The cost of installation of the signs is estimated to be approximately $400.
A report by Paige MacWilliam, the City of Duncan’s director of corporate affairs, said the law prohibits panhandling at intersections, but panhandling at these locations can be lucrative, which makes enforcement difficult for the police.
She said that as soon as one panhandler has been asked to leave, another will often take his or her place.
MacWilliam said in 2018, Inspector Chris Bear, head of the North Cowichan/Duncan RCMP detachment, advised Duncan’s council that an education campaign to deter people from giving to panhandlers, including installing signage, might be an effective deterrent for panhandling on roadways.
The matter was referred back to staff for further investigation at that time.
But last year, the City of Duncan, the Municipality of North Cowichan and Cowichan Tribes decided to work together, in collaboration with community stakeholders, to implement the Safer Community Plan to address the problems of crime and public disorder along the TCH corridor that goes through the community.
The partners established a Safer Working Group to develop plans and initiatives as part of the Safer Community Plan.
MacWilliam said at SWG meetings, panhandling on medians continues to be identified as a major safety concern.
“Panhandlers are risking harm to themselves and drivers by slowing down, obstructing or impeding traffic,” she said.
“The safety of those engaging in panhandling, as well as the drivers who may be distracted by their activities, has caused the SWG to recommend that signage be installed at the main intersections where this is occurring.”
MacWilliam said feedback from eight other B.C. municipalities that have installed similar signage indicates they have been “somewhat effective or very effective” in deterring panhandling at intersections.
“A few municipalities also suggested including an information campaign to educate the public on why they shouldn’t give money to panhandlers due to safety concerns and provide information on how to donate to local agencies,” she said.
“Staff were also made aware of a vehicle accident in Calgary last year that resulted in the death of a panhandler at a busy city intersection.”
MacWilliam said the Safer Working Group provides advice to each council in the Valley regarding operational actions in their jurisdictions.
“Cowichan Tribes’ council will also be consulted about installing signage at Cowichan Way and Trunk Road because that intersection boarders both jurisdictions,” she said.