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Rizzo Defends Plan To Lock Up Homeless As Compassionate

May 6, 1987

PHILADELPHIA (AP) _ Republican mayoral candidate Frank L. Rizzo on Tuesday backed off from his proposal that homeless people should be arrested on vagrancy charges, but said they should be forcibly removed from the streets.

″It’s only a humane act to get them off the streets,″ said Rizzo, who served as mayor from 1972 to 1980. ″We can’t have them lying out on the streets.″

On Sunday, Rizzo told KYW-AM he would arrest the homeless on vagrancy charges. But Tuesday he said the homeless would not be arrested, but would be taken off the street, against their will if necessary, to a city facility for food and medical attention.

Rizzo was not specific on the legal basis for such an action. Although saying the homeless would not be arrested, he said they could still face vagrancy charges.

″Vent people need help. They have mental problems, alcohol problems,″ Rizzo said. ″They’re out there on the vents in the freezing winter drinking wine. It would seem to me in our great democracy that they can’t make their own decisions.″

Rizzo’s remarks drew criticism from homeless advocates and John Egan, his GOP opponent in the May 19 primary.

″It clearly shows this man is out of step with the times,″ said Chris Sprowal, head of the Committee for Dignity and Fairness for the Homeless. ″The fact of the matter is that only about one-quarter of the 15,000 homeless people in Philadelphia are mentally ill. This is an economic problem.″

Egan said Rizzo’s plan essentially would punish people for being poor.

″The approach is not to lock them up. It is to provide shelter and treatment for those who are mentally ill,″ said Egan, who lost to Mayor W. Wilson Goode in the 1983 election.

The former mayor blamed the city’s increased homeless population in part on the court-ordered closing of the nearby Pennhurst Center for the mentally retarded.

David Ferlenger, a lawyer who represented residents at Pennhurst, disputed Rizzo’s assessment.

″There is no one among the street people who is there because of the closing of Pennhurst,″ Ferleger said.

″The people who left Pennhurst were retarded and not mentally ill. They have all been moved to small, family-scale supervised homes.″

Susan Siettmann, Rizzo’s research dirctor, said Rizzo’s suggestion was a short-term solution and that his staff was working on a long-range plan.

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