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The city of Winnipeg is partnering with a number of organizations to try and tackle unsafe panhandling.

Mayor Brian Bowman highlighted the issue in his most recent State of the City Address in March, 2018. He says he and some Winnipeggers he’s heard from noticed an uptick in panhandlers putting themselves in unsafe situations on boulevards and near traffic, so the city consulted 14 organizations that deal with the issue.

“The first thing we asked the stakeholders that were part of this is whether or not, based on their observations and data, there was an uptick,” Bowman said. “We asked if that observation was accurate or not, and not only was it universal, but there were specific intersections identified where there are more regular occurrences of unsafe panhandling.”

Bowman says in early July he recruited Downtown Winnipeg BIZ CEO Stefano Grande and Lucille Bruce of End Homelessness Winnipeg to co-lead a group to look at both short-term and long-term plans.

The shorter-term plans include a Multi-Agency Summer Outreach Pilot Program to engage with panhandlers, a Panhandling Employment Pilot Program and an Enhanced Boulevard Safety Pilot Program to establish barriers on boulevards where unsafe panhandling is common.

“There are some boulevards that have certain design elements that are designed for beautification but also to not create platforms for people to set up shop on,” Bowman said. “We’re going to be looking at what’s worked at other areas in the city and then working with the group to take a look at where we can do some environmental design.”

The city says these short-term projects will be used to decrease unsafe panhandling while long-term goals are established. Those long-term goals include creating an awareness campaign to educate the public on unsafe panhandling, developing environmental design considerations and standards for boulevards, assessing results of the summer outreach program and organizing Winnipeg businesses to employ panhandlers.

“We’ve learned of incidents where people have been injured and killed at intersections,” Bowman said. “We’re not expecting that this is going to be a cure all for unsafe panhandling, but it might be a better way to collaborate and leverage the existing resources in the community.”

Downtown Winnipeg BIZ chair Diana Wiesenthal says the BIZ will be shelling out $90,000 to create four full-time positions to provide panhandlers assistance in finding employment.

“Everything that starts with a community focus is going to help,” Wiesenthal said. “Simply shedding light on the issue, simply responding to the issue that motorists and pedestrians are bringing up with respect to panhandling can help.”

The city says the funding for all of these projects will come from the internal resources of each of the 14 stakeholder groups.