A protest at the Delta intersection in Cambridge, Ont., has sparked controversy after picketers carried placards with the message to passersby to not give their money to panhandlers.
On Sept. 27, more than a dozen people gathered at the intersection in protest of panhandling, and again, on Oct. 4, three protesters returned with their signs.
Ryan Coles, a Cambridge Ward 7 candidate and YouTuber who helped organize the event, said that offers of generosity by passersby to panhandlers can often be an act of “deadly kindness.”
“They [panhandlers] might go buy drugs and die of a fentanyl overdose. By giving them money, you’re not helping — your enabling,” said Coles. “It wasn’t very comfortable to do, but it was something I believed in so much. It’s something that I think really needs to be done. Awareness and education have to be there.”
The protests have since been a subject of controversy, as many see the demonstration as disrespectful to those who are struggling.
“What those ‘activists’ are doing is demeaning to those already likely dealing with low self-esteem and other issues,” commented Joe Lethbridge on a Cambridge politics Facebook group. “One can choose to give to panhandlers or not. No group or individual has a say in who I choose to give to.”
Mike Farwell, a talk show host at 570 News, spoke on-air about the controversy on Oct. 4, just several hours before the second scheduled protest.
“Protesting poverty in the face of the people who are asking for a handout, to essentially kick them while they are down — I cannot fathom a worse approach,” Farwell said during his show. “Just imagine being out there, so down on your luck that you feel the need to ask for a handout, and there are people around you carrying signs in protest of what you are doing. This is the wrong approach, in my opinion.”
Farwell noted that the message behind the protest was correct; however, he was not in favour of how the group approached their demonstration.
“Ryan and his group are correct. It’s not going to help the problem to hand over money at a stoplight or outside a store, it’s just not. I’ve seen first-hand where that money goes, and it most often goes to the nearest LCBO or beer store,” said Farwell. “If you want to talk about the agencies, like House of Friendship that have homelessness supports, and you want to help them, put together a fundraiser.”
In a YouTube video documenting the protest, Coles highlighted that the group did accept clothing donations and, after the first day of picketing, they received more than four bags of donations.
“After many encounters with sign holders, I would much rather donate to a group home or an organization that helps the homeless. One winter I tried to give a man a $15 Tim Hortons card, as well as a warm pair of socks and mitts, and he threw them back at me and said he only wanted cash,” Brittany Nosal wrote in the comments of a Facebook post. “While I think their point could be executed better, I do agree that a better way to help the homeless would be to donate to soup kitchens or the food bank or group homes.”
Despite the controversy, many saw the positive message the protest delivered, but thought the execution could have been more effective.
“If the message was to donate, then why not use buckets and collect money that day to give to The Bridges [a nearby homeless shelter]? But that wasn’t done,” said Lindsay Reed in a Facebook comment. “I saw it as misguided and not well thought out, but I’m sure the people involved didn’t intend for that. I would like to think they’re all decent people — just maybe the message was conflicting.”
The Bridges is a year-round emergency shelter and drop-in centre run by Cambridge Shelter Corp.
“We are compassionate people that know the facts about panhandling and the significant harm it does all around,” said Coles. “This may not have been the best approach but it certainly has got the attention needed.”