April 24, 2012 |

Councilman concerned about panhandling on South Side

City Councilman Bruce Kraus began the April 18 Zone 3 Public Safety Council meeting by reporting vagrants, once called rail riders, are back panhandling by the railroad tracks off 18th St. in South Side.

He said the modern-day hobos ride the rails in the warm weather, often selling drugs to support themselves. They leave the area when the weather turns cold, and return again in the spring.

Two acres of their former stomping grounds have been cleared for the new off-leash dog exercise area in Riverfront Park. But they remain a visible presence, and employees of the nearby teachers' union building and the Giant Eagle are fearful leaving work.

"It is purposeful vagrancy by choice," he said to distinguish the vagrants from the homeless.

When he called 911, officers arrived. But the vagrants know how to "work the system" Mr. Kraus said. Without the owner of the private area in which they were standing stating they could not be there, there was nothing the officers could do to remove them.

He said he committed with the officers to revisiting the panhandling ordinance, and to look into how to work with the police, ACLU, businesses, and residents to make it effective.

Another concern with the vagrants is their animals, which are likely not to be licensed or have the proper shots.

"People are frustrated already," he said.

The good news he was happy to relay was about a Carrick woman who emotionally detailed at the last Carrick/Overbrook block watch meeting the threats and behavior emanating from a suspected drug house in her neighborhood. Days later, the police SWAT team raided the house.

The tenants' problematic landlord is also a concern. Crime prevention Officer Christine Luffey said the nuisance property committee she is involved with will look into the matter.

Mr. Kraus said former city council president Gene Ricciardi wrestled with legislation on problematic landlords. He added the realtors' association sues the city in court when the city tries to adopt pro-active measures, such as with the current rental registry.

An attendee said other Pennsylvania cities have rental legislation programs that win in court, which bodes well for Pittsburgh.

Mr. Kraus said another piece of good news is that the man who beat off-duty police officer Michael Murray in Dec., 2010, outside a South Side bar was sentenced to nine to 20 years in prison for aggravated assault.

Officer Murray suffered a fractured skull and broken leg, and was off work for almost a year.

In other news, a Mount Washington resident reported there were two reports from Grandview Park of boys trying to grab two female joggers. He told the joggers to get cell phones to call 911 when it happens, and carry pepper spray. The incidents occured in the evenings.

The resident said there is also an on-going problem with a Mount Washington man who lets his two dogs run loose.

Mr. Kraus said the new South Side off-leash dog area makes five such legally designated areas in the city. He said he would look into the city's liability for such areas.

Officer Luffey said all dogs should have a collar with ID, license, and shots information, such as for rabies.

In other news, Community Day in Mount Washington will begin at noon on June 23 in Grandview Park.

When an attendee mentioned the recent incident in Carnegie in which a baby was struck by a bullet, Mr. Kraus said he is passionate about keeping guns off the streets.

He has met with the police department's gun task force, which tracks lost and stolen guns. He suggested arranging for a speaker for an upcoming Zone 3 public safety council meeting.

He said the state legislature is considering two bills which penalize local governments which try to regulate with gun ordinances.

He was in Harrisburg last month talking with officials about not passing these bills.

"We have a big battle ahead of us," the councilman said.

He said in the 1970s drugs were in Los Angeles and New York, but not Carrick. Now drugs are everywhere.

Mr. Kraus said he feels the same about guns. When he mentioned during a city council meeting there were 39 shootings in Chicago over a recent weekend, he was admonished by a colleague for it not being relevant to Pittsburgh.

"If you don't think this is our future, you're sadly mistaken," Mr. Kraus told the colleague.

In announcements, the Hilltop Alliance will conduct a "Dialogue to Action" from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. on May 19 in the Knoxville Elder Ado, 320 Brownsville Road.

It is a program of Youth LEAD (Leadership, Empowerment, Action and Development) aimed at increasing the number of Hilltop youth engaged in the alliance's activities.

In "Dialogue to Action," youth will talk about their dreams and plans, and make recommendations for the community.

To register, call 412-586-5807, or go to facebook.com/YouthLEAD2012.

On June 12 at 6 p.m., at St. John Vianney Church, there will be a meeting on how to organize a block watch, conducted by Liz Style from the Mayor's Office.

In her report, Candice Gonzalez of the Mayor's Office said the city's Dept. of Public Works can be followed on Twitter for updates on paving, road closures, snow alerts, and more.

Earth Market, a week-long market in honor of Earth Day, will be held in Market Square from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on April 23-27. There will be more than a dozen vendors with sustainable green resources, retail items, and recycling services.

At the market on April 25, the city will give away 1,000 evergreen trees to promote a greener city, and reach TreeVitalize's goal of planting 20,000 trees in the county by the end of 2012.

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