panhandling and kindness
Credit: Jen Madole

May 23, 2019
Category: DT Advantage Summer 2019

An Act of Kindness

Last fall, a Downtown café made news headlines when it posted a sign in its window that read “Zero tolerance for panhandling.” Public backlash was immediate, and some customers threatened to stop patronizing the eatery. The owner later apologized for the language used and the sign was removed.

The incident reminded us that panhandling is a complex issue and one that requires compassion towards the marginalized members of our community. “Responding to panhandlers in a non-confrontational and respectful way is the first step in understanding the problem,” says  Ian O’Donnell, executive director of the Downtown Business Association of Edmonton.

Here’s what you need to know about panhandling, engaging with vulnerable individuals and how to make your business look safe.

  1. Most people who panhandle suffer from physical and/or mental health issues and are unable to work. Many have no source of regular income. Those who are on social assistance, typically receive less than $1,000 per month.
  2. When approaching someone who is panhandling greet them respectfully, use their name whenever possible and introduce yourself to them if you’re comfortable. A simple “hello” and a genuine smile goes a long way.
  3. After you’ve acknowledged the panhandler, tell he or she that you understand why they’re panhandling and ask if they’d mind not doing so at your place of work or business. Once treated respectfully, most panhandlers will recognize your firm stance and move on.  
  4. If you’re worried about the well-being of someone who is in crises, call 211 and press 3 to connect to Crisis Diversion. They can provide appropriate assistance. For health, income and housing service assistance for a panhandler, get them in touch with Boyle Street Community Services Street Outreach Team at 587-336-5688.

Need staff training on how to engage with vulnerable individuals in the Downtown core? Boyle Street Community Service can arrange a presentation for your office or business. 587-338-1959.


Property owners can also do their part to help businesses look inviting and safe for customers.

Replace damaged or burnt-out lighting, and consider adding additional lighting to problem areas. Good lighting has a positive effect on our sense of security and can help ward off loiters.  

Avoid covering your front windows with vinyl and tinting. This will ensure transparency into and out of your business.

Sign up for Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) training offered by the Edmonton Police Service. CPTED teaches property and business owners how good design principles can enhance the security of their current or planned buildings and environments.


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