More than 100 advocates for the homeless protested outside City Hall on 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 the homeless.
The bill was drafted in response to persistent complaints from downtown businesses and residents about aggressive behavior by some homeless people. According to the city's most recent count, 359 people were surviving on the streets.
But Councilman Frank DiCicco, who introduced the measure, delayed a hearing until 4 p.m. Tuesday. He said he would come up with a new version of a bill after some of his colleagues raised concerns about its language.
He said the revised amendment would "speak more" to aggressive behavior and panhandling, without singling out the homeless.
Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell said the changes were unnecessary. "We already have laws against people who act out in public," she said.
The complaints of merchants in Center City should be addressed by police, social-service agencies, and city officials, she said, but don't require a change in the law.
Protesters shouted, "Solutions, not citations," and warned that DiCicco's original amendment would have given police too much discretion in intervening 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 persuade people to leave the streets. Under the suggested changes, police would have the option - but not the duty - to call on homeless-outreach staff.
The current setup "works, so why change that?" asked Misty Sparks of the Bethesda Project, a nonprofit that provides services and housing to the homeless.
The 1999 ordinance was a compromise arrived at after a contentious, long debate between advocates for the homeless and political and business interests concerned about the rising number of people living on the streets of Center City.
Sister Mary Scullion, cofounder 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."