Subsistence strategies such as panhandling (begging for money, food or other items), busking (providing entertainment for money), and squeegeeing (washing car windshields for money) are informal economic activities commonly associated with homelessness. It is not uncommon to see people experiencing homelessness panhandling on the streets of Canada's larger cities, in order to survive. People who engage in such activities often have real difficulties in participating in the labour market, due to their poverty, hunger, compromized health, disability, mental health challenges and other barriers to employment. Panhandling or squeegeeing allow people to earn income on a day-to-day basis so that they can meet their immediate needs for food, shelter, hygiene products and/or entertainment.
In the last several years, subsistence activities of those experiencing homelessness such as panhandling and squeegeeing (in addition to sleeping in public spaces) have become considered to be illegal and/or criminal in many jurisdictions due to shifts in laws, public policies and the logic of public policy in Canada. Critics argue that moves in this direction in fact 'criminalize' homelessness itself, and becomes an increasingly exclusionary practice. It contributes to marginalizing vulnerable individuals in the name of public safety. It limits citizenship and freedom of speech; criminalizes panhandling and squeegeeing; and, limits access to public space. At the same time, many people experiencing homelessness end up in prison due to a combination of mental health and substance use issues, a reliance on survival strategies (e.g. panhandling and sleeping in public places) and a higher surveillance by police due to their visibility on the streets. This creates a revolving door scenario whereby incarceration and experiences of homelessness are an individual's only two realities.