GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A public hearing Tuesday gave residents the opportunity to weigh in on a Grand Rapids proposal that aims to put an end to panhandling.
City commissioners went over a proposed ordinance to curb panhandling during a public hearing at 7 p.m. at the city building. Public opinion at the meeting was mixed.
The commission is looking to stop the practice of people standing near stop lights, approaching cars and asking for money. It would also ban blocking business to do the same thing as many people say they feel intimidated or fearful when approached by panhandlers.
The proposed ordinance will make it illegal:
- to solicit money within 15 feet of a public restroom or ATM.
- to solicit money from the driver or passenger of a car along the street.
- to block the path of or solicit money from someone going in or coming out of a public or private building or business.
Residents that argued in favor of the proposed ordinance said Tuesday it would make streets safer and that many people asking for money are not actually homeless.
“Panhandling is a danger to the citizens of Grand Rapids,” resident Sam Jones said. “It’s a danger to the people who are doing it themselves, standing out on the highway entrance and exits.”
Others disagreed, saying that ordinance would violate free speech rights, and that they feel punishes people who are asking for help.
“I don’t want our city to become a place where we see our poorest , weakest citizens as criminals merely because they have the audacity to ask for spare change,” resident Joe Meragil said. “I don’t want us to become a society where a simple act of seeking charity from our fellow man is a punishable offense.”
If the proposed ordinance goes into effect, Grand Rapids would become at least the seventh community in the area to limit panhandling — following the cities of Kentwood, Wyoming, Walker, Grandville and Hudsonville, along with Georgetown Township. Cascade Township, where panhandlers often work the entrance to Target on 28th Street SE, is considering its own ordinance, township officials told 24 Hour News 8.
Organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) have come out against similar ordinances in cities like Kentwood, saying they are a violation of free speech.
Commissioners did not express their opinions Tuesday, which was reserved for public comment.
If they choose to pass the ordinance in a June 3 vote, it would take effect immediately.