Signs around the city warning against panhandling had been bothering one Kamloops resident.
The City of Kamloops signs, located at intersections and on street medians in Sahali, Aberdeen and North Kamloops, state panhandling from vehicles is “unlawful” and “unsafe” and cites the city’s panhandling bylaw.
The individual, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of professional ramifications, told KTW the signs criminalize poverty and shame the poor.
“It’s putting the onus on the individual who is panhandling for being poor, when, yes, there are personal choices that play in and come into play,” the individual said.
“But, ultimately, we have some mass social inequities and structural problems that are creating this.”
As a result, the person undertook an advocate art project, erecting alternate signs next to the city warnings.
The new signs looked similar to the city signs, but carried a completely different message: “Criminalizing poverty is unjust and ineffective.”
Four of the alternate signs, made of composite materials, could be seen on Monday (Jan. 4) at intersections, including Summit Drive and West Columbia Street and Notre Dame Drive and West Columbia Street in Sahali.
The alternate signs also cited the Golden Rule, which is to treat others as one would like to be treated.
Within hours, however, the signs were taken down.
Kamloops Coun. Arjun Singh said the intention of the city’s no-panhandling signs is not to criminalize poverty.
He said the signs were put in place specifically on busy roadways out of concern for panhandler and driver safety.
He said residents over the years have raised concerns about people asking for money on medians in the middle of busy streets, such as Columbia.
“It’s really a road safety issue more than anything else,” Singh explained.
City CAO David Trawin noted such signs are not in areas where the activity is not unsafe to do so, noting panhandling can be seen downtown.
He said the city’s panhandling bylaw allows individuals to ask for money in passive ways, such as with a hat on the street.
However, it is illegal to aggressively ask people for money.
Neither Trawin nor Singh were aware of the alternate signs being taken down and a call to the city’s bylaws department was not returned before KTW press deadline.
Asked if someone can post signs in this way, Trawin said that when freedom of speech conflicts with safety issues, safety prevails and the signs would be taken down.
However, the person behind the sign project called road safety a “fallback” response and wants the panhandling warnings to come down.
“I’m sure that the person standing there in the freezing cold winter on the icy boulevard knows that it’s unsafe and, if they felt that they had a safer option, I’m sure that they would choose it because that’s nature — that’s our instincts,” the person said.
The individual does not blame the city, which takes its direction from the people. The hope was the community would take notice of the alternate signs and push for change.
Singh said the city wants people in need to access support services and meal programs, but conceded panhandling is an activity that has been pervasive for some time and continues in Kamloops.