Innovation and Collaboration at its Best

March 14th, 2009   •   Comments Off on Innovation and Collaboration at its Best   

Bernie Smith, manager of the Spring Garden Area Business Association, is a very wise man.

For years, merchants in the Spring Garden Road area have struggled with finding a solution to the significant population of panhandlers who frequent the area. Attempts to rid the area of panhanders have only resulted in relocating the population to other business districts within the city.

Non-profit and charitable organizations working on behalf of persons living in poverty, street youth, homeless persons and persons living with addictions or mental health challenges have long advised that attempts by police and security personnel to encourage panhandlers to “move along” does not address the root of the problem. Criminalizing panhandling does not work either, and these efforts may, in fact, encourage petty crime.

Bernie Smith has taken it upon himself to devise an innovative and collaborative solution to a challenge that the HRM has not yet found an effective way to address. Mr.Smith has pioneered a constructive and humane program that works to address the root causes that lead people to a life of panhandling.

The business association has hired a “navigator” to work with street people. The navigator works directly with panhandlers to teach them basic life skills and direct them to social and employment agencies that will help them take steps to improve their life situation. The program helps provide services such as access to a computer to create a resume or money to buy work boots (necessary for most labour jobs). In addition to the services provided by non-profit and charitable organizations, participants in the program are given $12 a day until they get their first paycheque.

As well as being innovative, Mr. Smith’s initiative is also collaborative. Three other business districts have joined the program – Quinpool Road Mainstreet District Association, Downtown Halifax Business Commission and the Downtown Dartmouth Business Commission. The group has joined with Halifax Regional Municipality and the provincial Justice Department to fund the $70,000 program.

The only set-back to the program is that the navigator currently has to run back and forth between all four business districts. To increase effectiveness and efficiency, it would be ideal to have a navigator in each district.

We have all been advised over and over again not to give money to panhandlers – primarily because it can enable an addiction problem and does not provide a long-term solution. As patrons of these businesses, the best way we can help is to encourage businesses to provide coin boxes in support of those organizations which are working to help address the root issues of poverty and homelessness – and that is where we should deposit our spare change.

The full article from today’s Chronicle Herald can be accessed here:

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