PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – A long-simmering battle over homelessness and panhandling in Center City — and its effects on tourism — is about to erupt in City Council. One lawmaker wants police to have greater power to move the homeless and those begging for change.

Councilman Frank DiCicco says along Market Street and Arch Street, and in the historic district, aggressive panhandling is getting worse.

“If you go around some of our hotels in Center City, go around the Reading Terminal, you would see first-hand what it is I’m talking about,” he said. “There are people literally standing outside of hotel entrances that are very, very aggressive in their behavior. And this is not an appropriate way for people to be treated. And we’re in the tourism industry in this city, and I think we need to handle it a lot better than we have.”

So DiCicco has introduced a plan to revise the city’s 12-year old sidewalk behavior law, to the powers of police in handling such issues.

“What we want to do is give the people a little bit more authority to make decisions, as to people who are aggressively panhandling or homeless. Police will have the ability to decide if that person has a substance abuse (issue), if that person just is an aggressive person, and be able to take action and get that person off the street as quickly as possible.”

Under the bill, police would no longer be required to wait for outreach workers to arrive before moving a homeless from a location.

But the city’s leading homeless advocate, Sister Mary Scullion of Project Home, calls the proposal a giant step backwards.

“Having the police directly interact with people who are homeless is a recipe for disaster,” she said. “This bill could escalate into much more serious consequences for people who are homeless.”

Scullion vows to fight to see DiCicco’s plan defeated. She insists the existing regulations are working fine.

“The current law has served the city well for many years, and it’s really recognized as the national model.”

Reported by Mike Dunn, KYW Newsradio

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