sidewalk control bill anti-homeless, say Phillie protesters FWD

Tom Boland (
Sat, 4 Apr 1998 05:49:58 -0800 (PST)


by Mark McDonald
Philadelphia Daily News Staff Writer

With visions of a fascist police state dancing in their heads, a fired-up
coalition of activists gathered outside City Hall yesterday to trash City
Council President John Street's sidewalk behavior bill.

Some recalled that the Nazis started their reign of terror by first
rounding up the homeless. Others blasted Street for "anti-Americanism."

There were plenty of signs. One read, "John Street: Do you think your dumb
anti-homeless law will help you get elected?"

When Street introduced his complicated bill in December and gathered 13
Council colleagues as co-sponsors, he certainly was not opposed to
garnering the political benefit that might accrue from it.

Indeed, many Council conservatives quietly complained that Street was
blatantly trying to grab the quality-of-life agenda that Councilman James
Kenney had been fruitlessly pushing for the previous two years. Yesterday,
Street took a hit from the left wing.

Sister Mary Scullion told the crowd of 300 that "people are more important
than sidewalks" and that the homeless were "a prophetic sign that something
is radically wrong."

A trio of Street's Council opponents were also on hand. Jannie Blackwell,
David Cohen and Angel Ortiz urged the crowd to show up for Council hearings
to demonstrate. Cohen said Philadelphians "will never accept this cruel
bill aimed at destroying people."

Raising the specter of a police force run amok, Ortiz said, "If the only
solution for the poor and the homeless is to fine them and put them in
jail, then this society needs a radical change."

And Jonathan Stein, a Community Legal Services attorney, suggested that
Street's bill would criminalize poverty for the first time. A bench warrant
for failure to appear on the citation or a conviction, Stein suggested,
would result in a loss of general assistance and medical benefits under
state welfare law.

But in an interview, Street said his bill is mute on the issue of
penalties. "We haven't figured out the most effective way to enforce it,"
Street said. "It will probably be some kind of civil penalty." He said
Stein's characterization of the bill's impact on the poor was "flat wrong."

Street said activists from the Open Door Coalition have a meeting scheduled
with him and he accused some of his opponents of fomenting hysteria.

"This is a well-thought out bill that strikes a delicate balance among many
competing interests," Street said. "But not all people will be happy with

Street said hearings for the bill have not been scheduled, but he predicted
action on the legislation before Council recesses in June.


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