Establishing bylaws to keep panhandlers out of the downtown core may improve business there but does little to address the root causes of the problem, according to an assistant professor in nursing who specializes in research on the homeless. “We need to have long-term solutions for these people,” said Jamie Crawley. “I appreciate that those business owners have rights too, and I don’t think they’re mean or indifferent, but a bylaw is just a quick fix, a band-aid.”
Members of Downtown Windsor Business Improvement Association held a community forum Monday morning to discuss the issue of what to do about the presence of panhandlers in the core. Some business owners complained that people begging for money scare away potential customers and suggested refusing to give them money will drive them away. Instead, they said, people could donate their money to charities that feed the needy. However Crawley, one of several co-investigators on a recently completed research project on the health and social service needs of homeless people, suggested if funding could be improved so that agencies for the homeless could offer more outreach and education to businesses, those owners would be better equipped to talk with homeless people in front of their shops and restaurants, and perhaps direct them to the services that can help them. Along with Liz Atkinson from the Windsor Essex Community Health Centre’s Street Health Homeless Program, Crawley and several other colleagues just wrapped up a research project called Hidden No More: Needs Assessment of Service Use by the Hidden Homeless. Based on interviews with 34 “couch surfers” — people who transiently share accommodations with friends, family members or strangers because they lack permanent housing — the project aimed to determine which services for the homeless are working and which ones need improvement.Among the report’s recommendations are calls for:
- enhanced community agency partnerships to reduce gaps in care and avoid duplication of services;
- community forums for discussion about the ongoing needs of the hidden homeless;
- considering the implementation of a one-stop shopping system that would increase awareness of all community services;
- exploring the impact of poor or non-existent transportation for homeless people to access health and social services;
- providing educational workshops for health and social service care workers to promote increased awareness and understanding of the stigma and stereotypes associated with this population.
Crawley said responses from the research participants reinforce the notion that all aspects of health need to be reinforced when developing resources for the homeless.