A homeless man is at odds with Penticton Bylaw Enforcement after receiving multiple tickets for being an obstruction, and he doesn’t plan to move.
Paul Braun has received multiple tickets in excess of $100 for violating the city’s Good Neighbour Bylaw by panhandling near a Main Street breezeway. The tickets stem from multiple complaints received by Bylaw Enforcement according to Tina Siebert, Bylaw Services Supervisor.
“We get complaints from downtown businesses and other passer-byers [sic] that feel uncomfortable and unsafe entering the breezeway seeing Mr. Braun inside or in front of it. If we allow one, we have to allow them all and we are not prepared to do that,” Siebert said in an email. “We understand Mr. Braun is homeless and will likely not pay the outstanding tickets, however we have been encouraging him for a very long time to find a different location that is not contrary to the Good Neighbour Bylaw.”
Under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the city is not allowed to prohibit panhandling, but the bylaw does regulate where it occurs, prohibiting obstructions within 10 meters of bus stops, crosswalks, enclosed or covered pedestrian walkways, ATMs or sidewalk cafés.
Braun has been in the same spot for some time, and he has some reservations about moving.
“They keep telling me to go up to Nanaimo Square. Well I’m not a drunk, I’m not a drug user and they’re trying to pigeon hole me in there. I haven’t had a drink in 20 years … but if they put me — if I go over there, people’s perception is if you’re there, you’re one of them. I spent a lot of time disassociating myself with all of that, now they want to throw me back,” Braun said.
He said he moved to Penticton when he was 19 years old. After developing emphysema, he said he was unable to work and now finds himself homeless.
“They said they are going to keep coming down here giving me tickets. It’s funny they left me alone all winter long, but come May 1 when the long weekend tourists start coming they want me gone, they want everybody gone because ‘we don’t have a homeless problem,’” Braun said. “Panhandling is not illegal, by law, just bylaws.”
Mayor Andrew Jakubeit said the Good Neighbour Bylaw was put in place to curb aggressive panhandling at the time, noting Braun is not accused of that kind of behaviour.
“Sometimes when he’s sitting he’s got his legs out sort of impeding flow of traffic into the breezeway, there’s been complaints, and so we have to react when there is a complaint. Downtown is a large area so there are probably lots of spots (panhandlers) could set up shop, as it were, that wasn’t by one of those designated areas where you aren’t supposed to panhandle,” Jakubeit said. He said the solution is for Braun to move.
“He could probably just move himself five or 10 feet north or south and be more or less in the same location, but not be right beside a crosswalk and not obstructing traffic flow by the breezeway,” Jakubeit said.
As to why multiple members of the RCMP accompanied bylaw officers to issue the tickets, Jakubeit said bylaw officers bring along police if they are going into a “potentially volatile situation.”
“I’m sure Paul was quite cordial. He’s usually very polite,” Jakubeit said.
Jakubeit acknowledged that Braun does not get much in disability payments and the tough spot that puts him in.
“Some (panhandlers) are there to feed a habit, others are there to literally just survive and it’s just about whether they have a meal, or a second meal,” Jakubeit said.
A coalition of multiple organizations met this winter, including the Downtown Penticton Association, multiple downtown churches with coun. Judy Sentes and Penticton MP Richard Cannings in attendance with the intention of bringing services together to aid Penticton’s homeless.
Jakubeit said the United Way has taken a leadership role coordinating the faith-based and community-based organizations dealing with homelessness and poverty in the city.
“They are making some strides,” Jakubeit said. “We’re still trying to put some programs and some solutions in place so we have something ready for the next winter season and maybe some other simpler things throughout the summer as well.”
The main goal is to establish some type of housing shelter for the city during the winter months, however that is still only a concept at this point. As for Braun, he will continue to receive tickets if he is in violation of the bylaw.
“There are people who conduct businesses and have shops and services there and the public needs to feel safe and feel welcome downtown. So I think we can all make things work,” Jakubeit said. “There’s obviously two sides to every story and you have members of the business community and the public registering complaints so we have to follow up on some of those complaints. That was the process that we followed.”