outlaw aggressive panhandling in Philadelphia, says business

Tom Boland (wgcp@earthlink.net)
Tue, 9 Jun 1998 12:05:56 -0700 (PDT)

FWD  June 8, 1998 - Philadelphia Business Journal editorial

"This law is the stick that business owners need to uproot the homeless who
disrupt their enterprises." -- from article below


It's time to outlaw "aggressive panhandling" in Philadelphia.

City Council President John F. Street is championing a bill that would do
just that and more. The legislation would prohibit anyone from:

Lying on a sidewalk;

Sitting on a public bench for more than six hours in a 24-hour period;

Panhandling within 20 feet of a bank entrance or an ATM, or within eight
feet of a building entrance or vending cart.

Quality-of-life issues may sound like so much Martha Stewart propaganda.
But they can make a difference to a city that loses about 13,000 residents
every year and is desperately trying to become tourist-friendly.

Retail business owners feel the effect of belligerent homeless who lie
outside their storefronts in Center City. Commuters and visitors who
venture into the city are often accosted in their cars at intersections by
disheveled men shouting for change.

Philadelphia is actually late in joining the popular move to restrict
"sidewalk behavior."

The National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty estimates that 77
percent of the nation's 50 largest cities have laws that prohibit or
restrict begging. Mayor Rudy Giuliani has been canonized in New York for
his efforts. Los Angeles passed its anti-begging law last summer.

As a Democratic mayoral candidate, Street will no doubt benefit from any
effort to try to improve Philadelphians' quality of life. Sure, he's
flip-flopped totally on this issue. He'd been opposed to many of these
ideas as late as mid-1997. But let's commend him now for changing his

That said, we hesitate to drive the bandwagon on this legislation because
Street has not revealed what the penalties would be for the various
offenses. It's hard to collect a fine from someone who spends his whole day
begging to gather $5.38. Cut off welfare checks? Reopen poorhouses?

Enforcement of these restrictions will be the tricky part. Police
Commission John Timoney has certainly said all the right things about
police officers' responsibilities to ensure a certain level of quality of
life in the neighborhoods.

But the police department faces enormous pressure to clamp down on crime of
all sorts, especially drugs, homicide and armed robbery. It's hard to
fathom how officers will be able to time whether a homeless woman has been
sitting on a public sidewalk for more than 30 minutes in a two-hour period.

This law is the stick that business owners need to uproot the homeless who
disrupt their enterprises. But City Council and the Rendell administration
need to become more creative in working with homeless advocates who
struggle to feed, clothe and house street people. Disagreement on
strategies to help the homeless is acceptable; avoidance of the problem is

For Street's "street behavior" law to truly benefit all Philadelphians, it
will take a broad-based, ongoing effort similar to the one now being
mounted for the welfare-to-work programs.

Otherwise, what Philadelphia will have done is to simply criminalize
homelessness. In a city that has faced umpteen court orders to reduce its
prison population over the last 15 years, there's no room in jail for the


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