About 25 people showed up to a sit-in at the Main Street breezeway in Penticton Tuesday in support of a local street person facing court action from city hall over a panhandling dispute.
Though Paul Braun hasn’t been at his regular spot in the breezeway as often lately, he was at his perch Tuesday by noon, with a cohort of supporters slowly filtering in, including his legal representative, Paul Varga, who sat beside him.
“They all know what’s going on. It’s no secret,” Braun said of his supporters, adding it felt good to have a show of solidarity. “The only people that think it’s wrong is the city. And they think it’s wrong while standing in front of the (kindness) meter that’s doing the same thing.”
Between noon and 12:30 p.m., the crowd grew to about 25 from 15, as supporters slowly trickled in and out and passed by offering hugs, while one attendee even made a pot of soup for the small rally.
“I think that it’s not right that people are targeted just because they don’t have a job or they’re homeless or what have you,” said Sherri Morrison, who brought the soup. “I’ve seen a lot of street people, and I’ve walked by Paul many times and he’s never said a mean thing or been aggressive.”
Christine Volk, one of the organizers of the Monday night dinners for the homeless in Nanaimo Square, said she showed up to bring more awareness to the issue, saying she has seen negativity toward the homeless population in other instances, herself.
“Certainly, reading in the news, you can see in the articles all the time … where people are talking against the homeless. You know, ‘why are they here, close down things so that they’ll move on,’” she said.
“Even at Nanaimo Square we’ve had some trouble, where the bylaw would like it moved to another location because people want to, in their words, ‘take back the square,’ but it is a public place. These are the citizens of our town, and we need to have compassion because that could be any of us.”
That was a sentiment shared by another attendee, who said there aren’t enough housing alternatives for someone if they lose a source of income.
“Where do we go then? We don’t have alternatives in Penticton. Where is there a decent place to rent? $1,200 a month is not low income,” Betty Mahar said. “They make tickets up at the office, and then they throw them in his lap when going by. That’s pathetic.”
The city has handed Braun eight $110 tickets for violating section 5.2 of the Good Neighbour Bylaw, which prohibits panhandling “in a manner to cause an obstruction,” which is defined as being within 10 metres of a pedestrian walkway.
Braun has not paid the tickets, amounting to $880 in total, and the city handed him a subpoena to appear in court in late fall last year. Though Varga has characterized the city’s tack on the issue as a “war on the homeless,” the city took aim at that phrasing in a public statement released Tuesday in advance of the sit-in.
“Nothing could be further from the truth. Mr. Braun is not homeless and has a residence,” the city’s statement read, referring to Braun now living at the Fairhaven social housing project.
“Mr. Braun continues to defy the Bylaw and has rejected what the media has quoted as a ‘sweetheart deal’ from the city prosecutor that would require Mr. Braun to simply comply with the bylaw.”
The “sweetheart deal” the city mentioned refers to the wording city lawyer Troy DeSouza used to describe a city offer to cut the legal action if Braun agrees to pay $100 and obey the bylaw, and Varga took issue with the city referencing the offer.
“My understanding of our negotiations was between the city’s lawyer and myself, and not between the media and him,” Varga said. “Now, if he’s wanting to release the details on that without prejudice communication, I guess you should release the whole thing.”
DeSouza has also taken aim at Varga in the past for speaking to the media about the case, telling the court in a hearing last week it was the city’s “preference to try this in the court of law,” not the court of public opinion.
The issue is set to go to trial from Sept. 11-14, with a pretrial conference set for late June.