May 27: Christine Wilson-Furlonger and panhandling; Tasha French and street newspapers

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Welcome to The ShakeUp for Friday May 27. In Windsor an ugly little battle is brewing over panhandlers in the streets of downtown. Local business owners don’t want people begging in front of their establishments and people in general are often uncomfortable being approached for money. Councillor Valentinis, Joyce Zuk (Citizen Advocacy of Windsor), and some BIA members recently met to figure out a solution. It seems that one part of the solution is to get business owners to call social services when they see a panhandler. In a conversation with Joyce Zuk, who heads the Homelessness Coalition in Windsor, she said we all have to see that it is the downturn in the economy coupled with tax cuts and resulting decrease in social services that are the root causes of poverty. Zuk has convinced downtown business owners that neither bylaws prohibiting panhandling nor aggressive policing will solve the issue. Indeed it would simply move it somewhere else, or have the problem manifest itself in different ways.

She will coordinate with such organizations as Canadian Mental Health and the Salvation Army to have professional staff respond to business owners when they report panhandling.

The worker will come and engage in a discussion with the panhandler to assess their needs and refer them to an appropriate agency, including Unit 7 Street Help. As well, they will have vouchers provided by business owners for food. Zuk is hopeful this effort is the beginning of a dialogue with business owners, and indeed all of us, on the root cause of panhandling – poverty. Zuk added that this is a people centred effort and not a full solution, and that she has an obligation to help since business owners have identified a problem of people in need. There needs to be engagement among all involved so that panhandlers are not scapegoated.

Many would agree that the lack of social housing, adequate numbers of hospital beds, and the downloading of services to cities with no corresponding increase in funding for those services have created a society of haves and have nots, a gap widening and likely to get worse with a federal government intent on cutting taxes while spending like gangsters on weapons and wars.

It’s all connected, right down to the streets of Windsor. Who’s responsible? We all are, and we have to do the right thing in the short term while we struggle to recognize that taxes are what enable an egalitarian society to exist. Tax cuts, especially the billions for corporations, kill both people and businesses.

On Friday’s program I talked to Christine Wilson-Furlonger who helps run the Unit 7 Street Help Centre on Wyandotte St, in the first half hour.

After the break, I talked to Tasha French in Nashville Tennessee. According to the NASNA website, “Tasha French is the Board president of the NASNA, and founder and director of The Contributor street paper in Nashville. She brings to the NASNA board a degree in photojournalism and more than 15 years experience working with at least ten publications in various capacities.

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She has experience as a homeless outreach worker and has spent years photographing and interviewing individuals living on the street.” (Comments expressed are those of Paul Chislett and do not necessarily reflect those of OPIRG Windsor or CJAM).

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