Police may soon start arresting aggressive panhandlers for disorderly conduct in Center City - but it could depend where they're doing the begging.
After loud protests from homeless advocates, City Councilman Frank DiCicco yesterday made last-minute changes to his bill that will keep safeguards for the homeless intact, while citing state law that gives police the authority to arrest aggressive panhandlers.
The bill passed out of Council's Committee on Streets and Services yesterday and now goes before the full Council for a vote.
However, the measure now excludes a large chunk of Center City from the stricter anti-panhandling measure. Councilman Darrell Clarke's 5th district - which includes parts of Center City west of Broad Street, including Rittenhouse Square - was exempted from the bill.
William Carter, Clarke's director of legislative affairs, said Clarke wants to talk with police about how the measure will be enforced before allowing his district to be included.
It's unknown whether Clarke's district - which also includes the shops on Walnut Street, from 17th to 21st - will be included in the final version.
In his original bill, DiCicco's measure would have enabled police to determine whether a person needed medical attention or psychological help at the scene, or whether to bring that person into Police Headquarters and then call outreach programs.
A City Hall protest and several amendments later, the sidewalk-behavior law keeps safeguards for the homeless.
"If someone is aggressive toward you, then the police don't need to call someone from an outreach program to come in - they can arrest you," DiCicco said.
"There's a line that is now drawn. If that person misbehaves, you're no longer entitled to the same treatment that you would be if you happen to be homeless."
DiCicco said that he drafted the legislation in response to an uptick in complaints from hoteliers and business owners who were fed-up with aggressive panhandlers but that he hadn't intended to target the homeless.
"It doesn't matter who is acting inappropriate; it's a matter of making sure it's not happening on our sidewalk," said Ed Grose, executive director of the Greater Philadelphia Hotel Association.
"This is a victory for the homeless," Sister Mary Scullion, of Project HOME, said of the amendments.
"It continues to emphasize services, not citations, and that is what we all have been striving for, '' she added.