As the City of Ottawa works to get panhandlers off city streets, many of Ottawa's homeless say they depend on panhandling for their survival.

Although 24-year-old Kevin Gehon has a job as a dishwasher, he still finds himself taking to the streets to ask passersby for money.

"I definitely don't want to do it," he told CTV Ottawa.

Gehon was recently forced to move out of a friend's apartment and is now waiting for affordable housing. He says panhandling is the only way he can garner up enough cash to pay his rent.

"We're all left with a life of choices and sometimes your only choice is to resort back to what you've done for so long to survive," said Gehon.

Cash to feed addictions

While Gehon says he relies on panhandling to pay his bills, others say they're on the streets asking for cash to help feed their addictions.

"The money goes to help friends. I help them. I feed them. I eat. I get myself clothes. And I drink -- that's my addiction," said Warren Boucher, a 50-year-old man from Thunder Bay who makes his home on Ottawa's streets.

Warren says being sexually abused as a child has led him down the path he's on today. He also says his survival is dependent on a regular dose of alcohol.

"I live with that pain everyday. So that's how I suppress my pain is with the alcohol," Warren told CTV Ottawa.

Warren, who's been living on the streets and battling his addiction for years, calls panhandling his "profession."

"I'm an understudy to him. He's got his panhandling degree. He's a professional panhandler," said Sparky, one of Warren's friends.

Many oppose panhandling

While some panhandlers say taking to the streets is necessary for their survival, opinions among observers on Ottawa streets are mixed.

"I don't give to people on the street," said one man, who says he believes money collected from panhandling more often gets spent in pubs rather than housing.

"You meet someone who asks for money every corner, so I would prefer giving money to an association," said one woman.

"If I had change, I would give it to panhandlers because everyone needs help," said another.

Number of panhandiling tickets is down

Although panhandlers can often be seen on many downtown streets, Ottawa police say the number of tickets for aggressive panhandling is down 39 per cent from 2006-2007.

While that number is down, 850 tickets were still handed out last year.

"Our enforcement has not changed, but the numbers of issued tickets has decreased because there's less panhandlers," Const. Alain Boucher told CTV Ottawa.

"We don't just do enforcement. We talk to the panhandlers, we try to convince them that there's better ways of doing things," he said.

Current approach not working

Still, Ottawa's bylaw director says current approaches aren't working and the costs of supporting people who choose to live on the streets are too high.

"It's costing upwards in the range of $42,000 a year. If you can get them into homes with good support, that's costing about $8,000 a year," said Susan Jones.

New projects in the works to help homeless

New efforts by the City of Ottawa, though, could soon get some of the city's most financially desperate residents of the streets.

Among those efforts is a pilot project that would designate special zones for homeless people to sell their arts and crafts.

Another proposal would transform the Rideau Street underpass, which was once used as a home for many homeless during summer months, into a cultural space run by the business improvement area.

Kindness metres installed throughout the Byward Market have also brought in just over $2,000 for homeless people since December 2007.

Still, Warren Boucher says there's only one way he'll stop panhandling:

"Get me a place to live and let us do what we want to do. Help us find the right treatment."

With a report from CTV Ottawa's John Hua

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