Should exploiting panhandlers for advertising be illegal?
On the sidewalk at the corner of Queen and University, two signs appeared strangely side by side the other day.
"Give a gift of food + drinks and bus fare home to Saskatoon please help God bless!" is scratched out in marker on one. Next to it is a slick, professionally made sign with a CFRB 1010 logo in the corner, reading, "Should panhandling be illegal?"
Holding both signs, not by coincidence, is a homeless man. He was paid an undisclosed sum by Zig Advertising, an agency hired by CFRB, to carry the ad while he begs for money.
Putting advertisements in the hands of panhandlers isn't a new idea. The practice most recently reared its ugly head as "Bumvertising" in Seattle in 2005. But it remains controversial everywhere. Homeless advocates argue it exploits the homeless.
Michael Shapcott, housing advocate at the the Wellesley Institute, calls it "pretty shameful." Shapcott suspects the station isn't paying proper compensation for the man's image - a minimum per-day price he would put in the $250-plus range.
"No one thinks panhandling is an acceptable strategy to make a living, but by paying people to beg in the street, CFRB is keeping us locked into panhandling."
Pat Holiday, CFRB's vice-president and general manager, says the issue's not so cut and dried.
"We're actually giving that person a job," he says. "It's not meant to be exploitative, and ultimately it's up to the people themselves to hold the signs."
But the public might have some questions, especially when the city is investing millions to help homeless people get off the streets.
Presumably, companies that advertise using the homeless depend on their staying there.
Holiday acknowledges that the ad campaign may encourage the sign-bearers to panhandle, but he maintains that many of them would loiter in public regardless. CFRB's ads, he says, are designed to make people think about the homeless situation instead of just passing by.
"There's no right answer. You can see this as donating or giving a person a job," he says. "And it's engaging people."
The man holding the signs at Queen and University says he has no problem with it as long as he gets paid. "Not bad," he says of the work, smiling.