Police cracking down on panhandling in Chinatown

Director of neighbourhood agency says police are scapegoating people who can’t defend themselves

Chinatown’s police presence will be heightened starting next week.

Toronto Police Services (TPS) and the Chinatown Business Improvement Area (BIA) announced that they will be conducting a 10-week project targeting crime-prevention, auto theft, shoplifting, panhandling, public intoxication, and drugs.

The project will start on Monday and is named Project Blue Hog, according to a TPS news release.

“It’s obviously for the businesses in the area,” said Bill Hall, the director of Evergreen centre for street youth in Chinatown. Hall said that he does not find Chinatown to be any different from other areas of the city in regards to the acts targeted in the news release.

According to inspector Matt Moyer from TPS’ 52 division Project Blue Hog will primarily consist of officers from 52 division such as community officers and primary response officers.

Moyer also said that the project will have an investigative piece due to a series of break and enters along Spadina Ave.

“People who are panhandling are sometimes doing it for drugs. In Chinatown sometimes they’re doing it for money, because in most cases they have alcohol issues,” said Moyer.

The fact that panhandling was mentioned as one of the targets of the project concerned Hall. He said that it’s not dangerous to have somebody asking for help, and he doesn’t want people to be discouraged from being able to ask for help if they need it.

“The vulnerable populations can’t stand up for themselves or defend themselves,” said Hall.

He said that vulnerable members of the community are being scapegoated by this project targeting panhandlers.

“That’s the part Evergreen might not be telling you about, is that if you ask 52 division, ‘How often do you charge panhandlers?’ I’m going to say it’s pretty rare. But how often do we intervene when panhandlers are aggressive? Assaultive? Confrontational? I’m going to say just about every time,” responded Moyer.

The main problem with ticketing panhandlers is that they are ticketing people who have no money, said Barb Panter, the manager of drop-in and housing services at St. Stephen’s Community House in Kensington Market.

“It just builds up and then someone is immediately in debt and that does nothing to resolve their situation,” she said.

Panter promotes a community policing model where officers get to know the members of the community and work towards creating solutions for them.

She also pointed out that people who are on the street and use St. Stephen’s Community House’s services want to be safe in their neighbourhoods too, because they’re also a part of the neighbourhood.

“When we see panhandlers, it’s a pretty good indicator that there’s other things going on in the person’s life,” said Moyer. 

TPS will conduct workshops and presentations to raise awareness for seniors on topics such as Canada Revenue Agency scams, identity theft, and Power of Attorney abuse in English, Cantonese, and Mandarin as part of the project.

Hall said he did not see the correlation between the project targeting crimes that largely affect businesses in the area and providing workshops for seniors.

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Police cracking down on panhandling in Chinatown