Kelowna panhandlers, buskers given a break

Kelowna backs off heavy-handed tactics

Kelowna city council has retreated from proposed bylaw amendments that would have cracked down on buskers and panhandlers by ticketing the people who give them money.

Changes to the Good Neighbour Bylaw were brought up in March and staff were asked to consult further with the community after a widely negative reaction.

Related: Panhandling and busking crackdown abandoned

Staff instead will conduct a “robust review” of the city’s street entertainment and busking policies, in conjunction with Festivals Kelowna, and report back to council before the summer of 2019.

“While the feeling is it’s still an unsafe activity, the existing enforcement rules will remain in place with no changes,” said Rob Mayne, City of Kelowna divisional director corporate and protective services.

“We will focus instead on outreach program alternatives and try to support those who are most vulnerable.”

All references to fining panhandlers for collecting bottles or accepting donations from the public will also be rescinded, as will the fines for those who give them money.

One driving force behind the initial changes was the constant issues facing businesses in conflict with bottle collectors lingering around the Columbia Bottle Depot site on Kirschner Road.

Mayne said the city and RCMP will continue to work on ways to mitigate the concerns in that area, although he noted the bottle depot is looking to relocate because its lease on the building expires this fall and won’t be renewed by the landlord.

Related: Initial approval granted to Good Neighbour bylaw

Coun. Gail Given said closing the Kirschner site may only move the problem to another location, citing the bottle donations accepted by the Pathways Abilities Society Kelowna with drop-off locations on St. Paul Street and Dease Road.

She also noted an article she read last week that indicated that 30 per cent of what the bottle donations collect for street people goes to “bottle pimps or bottle bullys”and much of the remainder goes to buy alcohol.

“It is a challenging problem that will need more resources wherever it relocates to when the Kirschner depot closes,” Given said. “But it’s not just about enforcement, as collaboratively we need to fix the real problem which is housing.”

Coun. Charlie Hodge said he hopes further consultation on the busker and street entertainment issues with Festivals Kelowna will be expanded to involve the musicians, both professional and amateur, who are part of the local street music scene.

“We should look at how other communities are dealing with this issue,” Hodge contended. “And I know from talking to some musicians, people in the arts community and some buskers, they would like to be part of the consultation process.

“Otherwise it will come back to us and we’ll hear the same criticism again. Nobody is talking to us.”

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