Halifax Regional Police are issuing tickets to panhandlers who venture into the street to ask motorists for money, but some critics say that’s not the way to handle a growing problem.

Police have issued hundreds of tickets to panhandlers who have adopted the practice in the city. Police say being in the median isn’t illegal, but stepping off the median into traffic and approaching a vehicle is.

It falls under section 173 of the Motor Vehicle Act - stopping, attempting to stop or approaching a vehicle to solicit a person, and the fines aren’t cheap.

The first offence is $180.00, and it goes up from there.

The second offence is $237.50, and the third is $352.50.

Over the last 16 months, Halifax Regional Police have issued 411 tickets.

One woman who was ticketed for panhandling says she told the police officer she will just have to continue to pay off the ticket.

“Well, there’s not a lot of options to give,” says Fiona Traynor of Dalhousie Legal Aid. “They are obligated to pay the fines.”

Traynor says it’s an opportunity to think about what panhandlers are going through.

“When people approach you in a car, they’re not doing it because it’s their first choice,” she says. “Generally people are doing it because they’re living in extreme levels of poverty which exist here in Nova Scotia.”

Advocates say ticketing isn’t the answer.

“It makes no sense that we’re providing a fine to somebody who obviously can’t even afford basics in their life,” says Christine Saulnier, Nova Scotia director at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. “That’s a problem. It doesn’t make sense as a policy. It can cause a real problem when they’re not able to pay the fines and then there’s an arrest warrant, etc.”

Police say they try to take the educational approach, and talk to the person before they resort to a ticket.

But they also say they have to react when they receive more than one complaint against a certain person.

“Some motorists have reported to us that they felt intimidated or even scared when they were approached,” says Halifax Regional Police Const. Carol McIsaac.

With files from CTV Atlantic’s Laura Brown.