In Philadelphia, as in other cities across this nation, people are living on the streets, sleeping in the parks, passed out on the sidewalks, panhandling in front of stores and restaurants, blocking transit stops, disrupting traffic, and otherwise behaving in a manner that is in violation of health, safety, and sanitation laws. According to published reports, although some people are homeless due to economic circumstances, the overwhelming majority of this group are drug addicts, alcoholics, and those with severe mental disabilities.
This is a crisis in Center City, Kensington, and other parts of Philadelphia and across the nation.
In Kensington there has been an alarming increase of Hepatitis A due to public exposure to human feces, among other causes. Historically, infectious diseases declined rapidly in the 1800 and 1900's due to improvements in sanitation and living conditions, well before the introduction of vaccines and toxic chemical disinfectants. Some cities are threatening homeless encampments with forced vaccinations and toxic sprays, which we believe would be unhealthy for all concerned. The homeless need housing and care, not shots and sprays.
Even seemingly small matters, such as panhandling, disorderly conduct, and non-passengers occupying bus stops, must be prohibited as it degrades living conditions in the affected neighborhoods. Why is it important to enforce “quality of life” and “health, safety, and sanitation” laws? If one person can violate the law, one hundred thousand can. And then we have epidemics and chaos. New York City and other cities in the U.S., learned that lesson in the 1990’s.
Federal court decisions that resulted in the de-institutionalization of the severely mentally ill in the 1970's, have contributed substantially to the crisis, including many recent "lower" federal court decisions asserting that panhandling is protected under free speech. These decisions should be challenged. Other federal court's have claimed that homeless encampments are protected under the Constitution, if the government has provided no shelter - which is why it is so important that cities provide emergency shelter for all of those in need.
According to the Office of Homeless Services (OHS), there are (usually) enough beds and services for these individuals in Philadelphia, but many have refused shelter, some claiming that the shelters are not safe and preferring to live on the streets. Unfortunately, the police and OHS, including Homeless Outreach & Project Home, are enabling these individuals to stay on the streets. The city is not committing the mentally ill for psychiatric & physical care, even when it is clear that these individuals are not able or willing to take care of themselves. See https://www.pacode.com/secure/data/055/chapter5100/s5100.84.html
Fundamentally, when it comes to this population, The Health Department, Streets Sanitation Department, OHS, L&I, and the police are not effectively enforcing the laws governing health, safety, and sanitation - which appears to be a substantive dereliction of duty. For those who point to federal court cases, who have exacerbated this situation, we believe that the city has the 'right and responsibility' to enforce safe, health, and sanitation laws, which cannot be overcome by claims of free-speech rights, or the alleged right to sleep anywhere one wants. If the city has to go to court to re-assert their civic rights and responsibilities, then we fully support that course of action. Otherwise, it is time for private attorneys to consider suing the city for failure to enforce health, safety, and sanitation laws.
We have spoken with many members of the business community, most of whom did not realize that they also have the 'right and responsibility' under Title 9-4400. Responsible Business Operations, to forbid "prohibited conduct" on their sidewalk and street (as defined in Title 10-600), which includes panhandling, laying on the sidewalk, etc.. The City needs to educate the business community about Titles 9 & 10. However, this also begs the question, "If the city police are not enforcing Title 10, how can the city expect businesses to comply with Title 9?"
Despite this apparent confusion, the public needs to speak up and contact Police District offices, the Mayor, and City Council members. In our experience, when the public complains long enough and loud enough, they get results. We have been meeting with Councilman Mark Squilla, representatives of the police (PPD), Streets Department, & Office of Homeless Services, as well as with local residents and businesses on these issues. To that end, we have experienced some success, but it will take a lot more effort from the public to improve life for all concerned.
We need your help. Please join us at Safe-Streets-Philly Meetup
Lynn and Cliff Landes
Center City, Philadelphia
(As the parents of a mentally disabled adult, this issue is particularly meaningful for us, as we shudder to think that our son could end up on the streets due to the negligence of those in authority and the misplaced good intentions of others.)
WE ARE ASKING THE CITY TO:
Enforce the 'no camping without a permit', AND always have emergency shelter
space available. Federal
court decisions have stated that people can live on the street “IF”
municipalities provide no shelter space, which makes sense (Martin v City
of Boise -
Therefore, it is incumbent on governments to always have emergency shelter
space available for the homeless. Non-profits cannot make this commitment.
Whereas, the city has thousands of vacant buildings, and some could be
quickly converted. That said, every county in the country should also have
available emergency shelters, including facilities for short term and long term
mental health care and drug rehabilitation. To that end, the City of
Philadelphia and Commonwealth of Pennsylvania should take steps to meet with
their colleagues in other cities and states to agree to share this
responsibility and build publicly funded facilities.
2. Amend Philadelphia Code, Title 10, to strengthen enforcement of “Prohibited Conduct”, by allowing the police to cite and remove violators immediately, if necessary. The police should take the homeless to a facility for assessment, shelter, and services, rather than to have the Homeless Outreach Team come out to the scene of the violation, where the homeless often reject offers of assistance and continue to violate Philadelphia laws. (see more info below) Complainants should be able to file charges at the scene of the crime, rather than be required to go to Detectives Central, which many businesspeople do not have the time or staff to do. In addition, chronic offenders should receive progressive sentencing, the more the offenses, the longer the sentence. That said, we are big supporters of rehabilitation programs, job training, and drug treatment in prison.
Enforce "Repeated Panhandling" under Title 10, and challenge the 9th Circuit
Court's ruling that ruled panhandling is a form of "free speech", if necessary.
Panhandlers are often drug addicts who provide the perfect environment for drug
dealers to do business, as well as pose a constant nuisance to many businesses and
Increase police patrols, particularly at night. The police are over-relying on
the public to call 911.
Request that state representatives in Harrisburg amend Pennsylvania Code,
5100.84 for involuntary commitments,
so that those who need long-term or life-time mental health shelter and care can
receive it. It is laws like this one that have resulted in the mentally ill
living on the street or in prison.
Determine the identity of the homeless
who are coming in for shelter and services. In some cases, the “homeless” have
homes, assets, and relatives or caretakers who are looking for them, but because
the sharing of information has become a voluntary process at government offices
and nonprofit shelters, that information is not available.
Ensure that the mentally ill, who qualify for SSD and other benefits, receive
along with an assigned a case worker. Currently, the Office of Homeless Servicer
and some non-profits offer to assist in getting SSD benefits for the mentally
ill, but it is a voluntary process on the part of the mentally & physically
more info below
Audit the Department of Homeless Services to
ensure that their $100 million dollar budget is being effectively employed.
There is a widespread and serious concern that many of the non-profits are
enabling the homeless to live on the streets, rather than effectively getting
them off of the streets.
Prohibit commercial dumpsters, trash cans, and food waste containers
that are accessible to the public, as they are magnets for health and safety
Provide public service announcements (PSAs)
education on the importance of laws regarding health, sanitation, & public
11. Offer rehabilitation, drug treatment, and job training to those in need. Life skills, crafts, and a wide variety of job training services are needed for those in need, facilities, or in prison, including primitive skills and crafts, from low tech to high (such as gardening, knitting, crochet, weaving, sewing, wood working, furniture repair, tool making, lamp construction and repairs, dog training, the building trades, computer programming and repair, etc.). There are many in the city who would volunteer their time and talents to such a venture. In addition, we need to laws to protect our industries and jobs. The 'free market' has put our self-reliance and national self-defense into a 'free-fall'.
BUSINESS: In Philadelphia, under Title 9, businesses have the ‘right and responsibility’ to keep the vicinity around their business free from “prohibited conduct” as defined under Title 10. Under Title 9, businesses that allow prohibited conduct on the sidewalk or street, as defined under Title 10, can be forced to remediate the situation or be closed down. Unfortunately, most businesses don't know about Title 9, and believe that they have no rights or responsibilities to forbid prohibited conduct on their sidewalk or street. Even businesses who have security staff often do not allow them to enforce security outside of the building, in violation of Title 9.
TITLE 9-4400. RESPONSIBLE BUSINESS -- OPERATIONS: http://library.amlegal.com/nxt/gateway.dll/Pennsylvania/philadelphia_pa/title9regulationofbusinessestradesandpro/chapter9-4400responsiblebusinessoperatio?f=templates$fn=default.htm$3.0$vid=amlegal:philadelphia_pa$anc=JD_Chapter9-4400
TITLE 10. REGULATION OF INDIVIDUAL CONDUCT AND ACTIVITY -- http://library.amlegal.com/nxt/gateway.dll/Pennsylvania/philadelphia_pa/title10regulationofindividualconductanda/chapter10-600publicplaces-prohibitedcond?f=templates$fn=default.htm$3.0$vid=amlegal:philadelphia_pa$anc=JD_Chapter10-600
"Prohibited Conduct" under Title 10 (not the complete list):
Contact: Lynn and Cliff Landes / LynnLandes@gmail.com / www.LynnLandes.com / Center City, Philadelphia