More than 100 advocates for the homeless protested outside City Hall Thursday, trying to thwart efforts in City Council to bolster police power in dealing with people living on the streets.
Council was supposed to have taken up an amendment that would have changed the rules on how police officers interact with homeless individuals.
The bill was in response to persistent complaints from downtown businesses and residents about aggressive behavior by some homeless people. According to city's most recent count, 359 homeless people were surviving on the streets.
But Councilman Frank DiCicco, who introduced the measure, delayed a hearing until next Tuesday at 4 p.m. He said he would come up with a new version of a bill after some colleagues raised concerns about its language.
He said the revised amendment would "speak more" to aggressive behavior and panhandling without singling out homeless people.
Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell said the changes were unnecessary. "We already have laws against people who act out in public," she said.
She said the complaints of merchants in Center City should be addressed by police, social service agencies and city officials, but don't require a change in the law.
Protestors shouted "Solutions, Not Citations," and warned that DiCicco's original amendment would have given police too much discretion in how to intervene with homeless people.
The measure would have stripped a 1999 sidewalk ordinance of language that requires police to work in tandem with social-services experts to convince people to leave the streets. Under the suggested changes, police would have the option - but not the requirement - to call on homeless-outreach staff.
The current setup "works, so why change that," said Misty Sparks, who works for Bethesda Project, a nonprofit that provides services and housing to the homeless.
The 1999 ordinance was a compromise that came after a contentious, long debate between political and business interests concerned about the rising number of people living on the streets of Center City and advocates for the homeless.
Sister Mary Scullion, co-founder of Project HOME, said most of the people on the streets have mental health issues, addictions or both. "It's a social services and health problem and should be treated as such," Scullion said. "It's not a police problem."