Mayor, Hotel Assn. back SIDEWALK BEHAVIOR BILL: Philadelphia FWD

Tom Boland (wgcp@earthlink.net)
Thu, 11 Jun 1998 19:40:09 -0700 (PDT)


http://www.phillynews.com/inquirer/98/Jun/10/city/HOME10.htm
FWD  Philadelphia Inquirer - June 10, 1998

Michael Boyle, president of the Philadelphia Hotel Association,...noted
that allowing them to stay on the streets worked against "all the money
we're spending trying to attract visitors and conventions to the
city.".....The real test will come this morning before what is expected to
be a huge crowd of homeless advocates criticizing the bill, as they did
during last Wednesday's hearing on the topic. -- from article below


     RENDELL BACKS BILL ON HOMELESS
     He promised millions to improve services -- if Council approves
revised legislation.

     By Cynthia Burton - INQUIRER STAFF WRITER


John Street had seen the signs and the hecklers before.

Yesterday, however, as he faced more than 30 protesters outside the
Philadelphia Visitors Center a block from City Hall, there was a difference.

Standing next to the City Council president was the big guy himself --
Mayor Rendell -- promising that the city would spend millions of dollars to
improve services for the hard-core homeless.

Street's "sidewalk behavior" bill prohibits sitting or lying on city
sidewalks and panhandling near automatic teller machines and bank
entrances. It has drawn howls of protest from homeless advocates, who
believe the bill would criminalize homelessness.

Until yesterday, the Rendell administration had stopped short of endorsing
the bill. But with new state funding for homeless shelters and Street's
promised amendments to the bill, the mayor said he was prepared to back the
legislation.

How much money Rendell will dedicate to new homeless services is unknown.
But no money will be transferred to new programs until Council passes
Street's bill, which could happen as early as next Thursday.

Yesterday's show of support from Rendell and representatives of the
business and tourism community pumped up Street's assertions that his bill
will not simply sweep the homeless off Center City sidewalks into other
parts of town.

But the show of support was just that -- a show -- to three-dozen advocates
for the homeless who ran a counter-demonstration in front of an equal
number of business leaders.

"I'm afraid there's still smoke and mirrors, because we don't see any
commitments to these programs," said Will O'Brien, spokesman for Project
HOME, a shelter and social service agency at 1515 Fairmount Ave. "We need
to hold them accountable to funding these new programs."

Rendell announced that State Rep. John Perzel, the House majority leader,
had secured $2 million in state funds to keep city shelters open during the
summer months, which means fewer homeless will be sleeping on sidewalks and
in parks or train stations this summer.

He promised to transfer other funds within the city budget to open small
shelters geared to help the hard-core homeless. The new shelters would be
tailored to problems of alcohol and drug abuse, as well as mental illness.
The mayor also said the city would run more intensive outreach programs to
connect the homeless with counseling and job-training services. And,
Rendell said, the bill will help the city attract new development and new
jobs.

"Keeping Center City viable, attractive, and building our status as a
destination city will only in turn help create more jobs," he said. "Many
of those jobs are now being filled by formerly homeless individuals."

Michael Boyle, president of the Philadelphia Hotel Association, said the
bill could curb "a small minority of people that are aggressive
panhandlers" and who "harass some of our guests in our hotels." Advocates
estimate that 500 people live on the streets in Center City.

Boyle noted that allowing them to stay on the streets worked against "all
the money we're spending trying to attract visitors and conventions to the
city."

For Street, yesterday's hastily called press event was a small victory. The
real test will come this morning before what is expected to be a huge crowd
of homeless advocates criticizing the bill, as they did during last
Wednesday's hearing on the topic.

Street promised to introduce a series of amendments to the bill that would
settle the question of whether there would be criminal penalties for
sitting and lying on city sidewalks.

He said there would be fines for violating the ordinance but would not
describe them yesterday. The bill will contain no criminal penalties, he
added.

In 19 years as a councilman, Street said, "I have never seen a broader
commitment to providing social services to people who need services." At
the core of this bill, he said, is a commitment "that we will not remove
anyone from the streets unless they have a place to go."

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