Cracking down on panhandlers in Phila.
CENTER CITY - June 7, 2011 (WPVI) -- A bill before Philadelphia City Council would give police more leeway in dealing with aggressive panhandlers on the streets of Philadelphia.
The bill, sponsored by City Councilman Frank DiCicco, was the subject of a public hearing Tuesday at Philadelphia City Hall.
Members of the business and tourism community support the plan to give police more power to get aggressive panhandlers off the streets.
But advocates for the homeless fear that's not the right solution.
Action News spoke with several people who have had some sort of run-in with aggressive panhandlers in Center City Philadelphia.
"They'll say, 'Can I get a quarter? Can I get 50 cents? Can I get a dollar? I don't care if you give me no money,'" said Serita Chase of North Philadelphia.
"Rittenhouse Square is a nice park, but you have to deal with someone coming up and wanting a dollar and following you. It's not nice," said Bill Decker of Northeast Philadelphia.
According to the city's Sidewalk Behavior legislation, police would be required to call Social Services first when dealing with people who ask for money on city streets. That way, the homeless or those with mental or behavioral health issues could be referred for help.
But DiCicco wants an amendment that would give police more authority when panhandling becomes aggressive or intimidating.
"When someone is standing in the middle of Market Street or at the entrance of a hotel asking you for money, and when you refuse they start following you down the street, groping you and calling you names, that kind of behavior is unacceptable," said DiCicco.
Members of the city's tourism and business communities support DiCicco's plan. They say the aggressive panhandlers scare potential customers away.
"If you feel uncomfortable, you're going to do something about it, and you're going to move away for that 'uncomfort zone.' In our case, it's moving away from the destination," said Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau C.E.O. Jack Ferguson.
But Sister Mary Scullion, an advocate for the homeless, says DiCicco's proposal is unnecessary because laws already exist to cover aggressive behavior.
"There's already legislation in place that prohibits that, and laws that exist that could be enforced, given some of those situations," she told Action News.
Scullion worries that DiCicco's proposal could lead to abuse and criminalization of homeless people who aren't bothering anyone and simply need help getting back on their feet.
philadelphia, pennsylvania, homeless, center city, philadelphia city council, local/state, amy buckman
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