Compassion, collaboration needed to address panhandling in Fredericton: police

Police and community groups need to continue working together to help reduce issues surrounding panhandling in Fredericton.

That was the key message from Fredericton Police Force Insp. Kim Quartermain in a presentation to the city's public safety and environment committee on Tuesday.

Quartermain said panhandling can be a very complex social issue, but it's one she feels the force is doing a moderately good job at addressing in a compassionate manner.

"Panhandling, on a very fundamental level, is about poverty," said Quartermain. "When people are on social assistance in our community, they receive $550 a month."

Some of those on the streets of Fredericton may have housing, but for others, the streets may be their only home, she said.

Dozens of panhandling complaints

When police receive a complaint about panhandling, Quartermain said their main focus is to address the underlying issues, which sometimes involves partnering with other agencies and groups in the city.

"If we can see why they're there, what they're trying to support, can we surround them with other services through connections in the community ... then hopefully we can prevent that activity from continuing," she said.

The Fredericton Police Force received an average of 94 panhandling complaints a year between 2012 and 2016; they received 65 complaints between January and July of this year.

Quartermain said panhandlers are ticketed in some instances, but it's a last resort.

"Our first approach would be to see what is going on with that individual, but in aggressive situations where there's a community safety issue, we would move probably quicker to using an enforcement tool," said Quartermain, adding that a lot of the complaints they receive involve those panhandling aggressively rather than passively.

Moving forward

Fredericton's mayor said he's pleased to see the team approach the city has been taking to address panhandling, especially in recent years.

But Mike O'Brien said the community needs to understand that the issue will never completely go away.

"We're a growing city and you have these kinds of issues," said O'Brien.

"The community wants this dealt with, and I think they want it dealt with in a compassionate way."

Quartermain said police will continue to work other groups in the city to address the issue in the best way possible.