[Hpn] ALERT: Pittsburgh may jail homeless who refuse shelter or "treatment" fw fw

Tom Boland wgcp@earthlink.net
Mon, 20 Nov 2000 02:31:22 -0800 (PST)

EMAIL your Homeless Civil Rights REPORTS please
TO: <NCH@ari.net>,<action@lists.ACLU.org>, <info@NLCHP.org>,

CIRCULATE this PITTSBURGH PA ALERT please to civil rights advocates:

FWD  Associated Press - AP Wire Service - Nov 15, 2000


     Associated Press Writer

PITTSBURGH (AP) _ A group which will study the city's homeless
should consider whether people who refuse to go to a shelter or get
treatment should be arrested or otherwise detained by police, Mayor
Tom Murphy said Wednesday.

Murphy said while the civil rights of the homeless must be
protected, he also has to consider the concerns of Pittsburgh
residents and business owners who believe homeless people may
present a public safety threat.

``I believe in everything there needs to be a carrot and a
stick,'' the mayor said. ``I don't believe we can continue to let
this go on.''

Murphy said his decision to convene a task force to study
homeless people was in part motivated by the death of 11-year-old
Scott Drake in September. Joseph Cornelius, a homeless man, has
been charged with killing and mutilating Drake's body.

Following Cornelius' arrest, a petition was circulated
suggesting the homeless be cleared from city streets and parks.

The mayor sent letters to 40 public officials, homeless service
providers, religious leaders and mental health and addiction
treatment experts asking them to join the panel. He said Wednesday
he wants recommendations on how best to deal with the homeless
population by spring.

He said there are 300 to 500 homeless people in the city, but
some people who deal with the homeless say the number may be as
high as 2,000.

Murphy said he wants a more accurate estimate of how many people
are homeless in Pittsburgh and to examine the adequacy of programs,
shelters and services offered to those people.

He also said he will look at how other major American cities
deal with their homeless and make recommendations ``that will
respect the civil rights of the homeless but also protect the
quality of life rights for neighborhood residents and business

Witold J. Walczak, executive director of the Greater Pittsburgh
chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, praised the idea of
trying to improve and expand services. But he said the city may
only detain a homeless person if there is probable cause that a
crime has been committed or if the person presents a danger to
himself or others.

Otherwise, the city has no grounds to bother a person on public

``The right to be in public areas is constitutionally
protected,'' he said. ``If you're going to pass a vagrancy law in
the city of Pittsburgh, you can bet your bottom dollar the ACLU is
going to drag you into court.''

Walczak said vagrancy laws were found unconstitutional decades

City Council member Barbara Burns, who will serve as
co-chairwoman of the task force, said homeless people sometimes
congregate and panhandle in parks and near playgrounds,
intimidating people. She said the problem is bad on Pittsburgh's
North Side.

She said, however, that she is not sure what can be done about
the problem.

``I certainly see this problem on a daily basis,'' she said. ``I
don't want to suggest anyone knows what works.''

Duane Gartland, executive director of the Light of Life
Ministries _ which serves homeless in Pittsburgh _ said he thinks
people have a right to decide that they want to live on the streets
but he can see some circumstances in which arrest might be

In cases where people panhandle, for instance, particularly near
highway ramps where they may present a public safety threat,
Gartland said it would be appropriate for police to become

``People need to understand ... those people (who panhandle) are
not trying to better themselves. They're trying to maintain their
lifestyle,'' he said.


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AP-ES-11-15-00 1326EST
Received Id AP1003206F9501E0 on Nov 16 2000 11:29


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