Philadelphia’s Homeless Can Now Take Credit
By: Fritz Algard
Philadelphia’s City Council has passed a controversial new ordinance providing Apple iPhones and devices known as “square readers” to the homeless, allowing them to accept donations through credit and debit card transactions.
Bill 150669, known affectionately as the “No Cash? No Problem” bill, will “immediately improve living conditions for our city’s street dwellers”, said Councilman Bob Cormac. “This marks the end of Philadelphia’s homeless having to smile and move on to the next potential donor when somebody says they don’t have any money.”
The ordinance, which easily passed with a 15-2 vote, is set to take effect on November 1, 2015. It is funded through property taxes, which are usually a primary source of funding for The School District Of Philadelphia.
While politicians, residents, and advocates for the homeless are hailing the ordinance as a victory for the impoverished, many details of the ordinance remain uncertain. “There needs to be some ground rules laid down to define exactly who is homeless. Are you really on the streets, or are you resting your head at night in the comfort of a crack den?”, asked Councilwoman Betsy Phillips. “The line needs to be drawn somewhere.”
City Council members faced a number of questions and criticisms from reporters and activists at a Friday press conference to announce the successful passing of the ordinance. “Fund schools, not fools!”, public education activists chanted as they scoured the grounds outside Philadelphia City Hall.
“We just had, had, had to amend the city’s funding plan for schools,” Cormac said. “We have been pouring technology into schools for years, and our streets have not been keeping up with these advances. It’s time to share the wealth.”
Cormac said that he and other supporters of the ordinance relied heavily on a recent study from the University of Pennsylvania, which found that 98% of residents solicited for money from the homeless did not have any cash on them at the time. The study was performed by the University’s Department of Sociology after being funded by a city grant. It surveyed nearly 400,000 residents. “Because most people tell the homeless they don’t have any cash on them, these new devices should really be an effective ace-in-the-hole”, said University of Pennsylvania graduate student Amelia Knish. “When our homeless respond to that excuse by accepting all major credit cards, people will have no choice but to make a donation.” The study further recommended that the ordinance be under constant amendment to keep pace with technological advances such as Bitcoins and other cryptocurrencies.
Still, the passage of the ordinance has drawn a mixed reaction among the homeless population that it aims to benefit. Bill Smith, a sidewalk resident who solicits daily along the I-95 North entrances off of Columbus Boulevard, said that the ordinance provides a great opportunity but isn’t perfect.
“It’s great to have this opportunity, but it’s still hard to get the word out. I filled up every inch of my cardboard sign with my story, and nowhere does it say that I’m now taking plastic,” he said. He also added that he now must verbally tell each passerby that he is “no longer a cash only kind of guy.”
Another homeless resident who wished to remain unnamed found the law unhelpful and confusing.
“What is this? Where do I charge this thing? How the f—- do I get a bank account?” she asked.
“Do you guys have any money?” she added.