A group of street people in Windsor, Ont., are banding together to prove that what they do is valid. The Street Labourers Of Windsor, a.k.a. SLOW, is a union for panhandlers, vendors and street performers.
Potential members are asked to sign membership cards for the Industrial Workers of the World. The 110-year-old union emphasizes grassroots democracy and doesn’t require its members to have a job.
Andrew Nellis, a tarot reader who was once the spokesperson for the Ottawa Panhandlers’ Union, organized the group. He told the Windsor Star that the union doesn’t have a hierarchy and that its purpose is to protect each other.
SLOW holds monthly meetings, in which they develop a code of conduct and address concerns like changing the public’s perspective of them. The union will also act as a liaison between businesses that have problems with particular street workers.
The union currently has friction with the Downtown Windsor Business Improvement Association (BIA), which paid to erect iron-spiked railings along the city’s cement planters. This addition prevents panhandlers from sitting along the planters to ask for change.
Larry Horwitz, chairman of the Downtown Windsor BIA has proposed putting up care meters in lieu of giving panhandlers money. This initiative has been done in cities like Montreal and Cleveland. They would be installed along the streets so those wishing to give money could donate to the meters, which would be colourfully decorated by artists. The money collected from the meters would be distributed amongst those who need it. The idea was taken to city council last year, but has yet to catch on.
Horwitz told Yahoo Canada News that SLOW is a “clever and industrious” idea. He stresses you can’t take away street people’s constitutional rights, or their dignity but at the same time it’s important to protect businesses, which is why it’s vital to get creative in order to make society work.
“They feel like they’re pushed to the side in society,” he says. “They’ve come up with a unique and constructive way of fighting back. I admire them for that.”
He says that by setting up rules and regulations, the union will make it easier for those in need of help to get it.
“They’ll look at the possibility of establishing rules and commitments and being better citizens,” he adds. “It could be a win-win for everybody.”
Members of SLOW couldn’t be reached for comment. And the U.S. office of the Industrial Workers of the World referred Yahoo Canada News to call its Windsor branch, which was not immediately available for comment.