GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) - Since a judge's ruling made panhandling legal in Michigan this summer, some panhandlers are complaining about the new competition.
"I've noticed a lot more out here. It's causing me a lot of problems," said James Speet, one of two panhandlers whose lawsuit led to the ruling. "People are out here who don't need to be out here."
On Tuesday, Speet worked 28th Street SW at US-131 in Wyoming. He carried a sign that read, "Homeless, anything helps," and waited for the occasional motorist to wave him over. He said he's trying to make enough so he doesn't have to sleep outside.
From Jenison to Cascade Township, Target 8 found several panhandlers working busy intersections.
The growth of panhandling recently led to an alert from the Ottawa County Sheriff's Department, about a group of panhandlers working the Jenison area, and apparently making decent money.
"When they were asked to move on, they actually used their cell phone and had somebody pick them up in a fairly new and sharp vehicle," said Sheriff's Lt. Mark Bennett.
Tuesday, about one minute after Target 8 spotted a panhandler at Cottonwood Drive and Baldwin Street in Jenison, an Ottawa County Sheriff's deputy pulled up. He stopped not far from the panhandler and backed into a nearby driveway, though he never got out of his car and said nothing to the panhandler.
The beggar folded his cardboard sign and walked away.
"Some cops are decent about it; some ain't," said the panhandler Troy Copiskey Jr., 32, of Grand Rapids.
Copiskey has such a long criminal record -- burglary, drugs and fraud -- that he says he can't get a job.
He carried an easy-to-fold cardboard sign: "Please help. Wife 3 kids. Lost jobs. Hungry. Facing eviction. Anyhing helps. God bless."
His wife and two of his three young sons waited for him in an old van parked around a corner.
"If you consider this a nice car; we got it for $450," he said. "I got a cell phone; it's an Obama phone. I get free minutes. It's a free phone."
Copiskey said he works alone, begging to feed his family and to keep them in their Grand Rapids apartment.
"People think people go out here and make hundreds of dollars; it's not like that, you know," he said.
He said he made $6 before Target 8 pulled up.
"I don't want my little man to look at his dad as someone who stands on the corner, but," he said, his voice trailing off as he held his nearly 1-year-old son.
A few miles east, at 28th Street SW and the East Beltline, Brittany Barber held a sign that read, "Pregnant & Homeless."
"Life kind of spiraled out of control and I really needed the money to eat and have somewhere to sleep at night that's warm; and it's legal now," she said.
"So I thought what better way to make some money since it's legal."
She said she is 7 months pregnant and that she and her husband can't find work. They sometimes stay with friends.
"If I make enough, I'll stay at a Motel 6," she said.
She reached into her pocket and pulled out her take through early afternoon on Tuesday -- a few dollar bills and a $20.
"All in all, it's been a really, surprisingly positive experience," she said. "The generosity of others, and just the fact that total strangers care enough to stop and help out someone that's down on their luck."
She said other panhandlers have taken notice.
"They try telling me this is their corner. They've been here for such-and-such months," she said. "I don't know; they try to claim the corner, I guess, if that makes any sense. Very territorial."
But it's in front of the Target store in Cascade Township that competition is stiffest -- almost a panhandler's drive-through.
On Tuesday, Target 8 witnessed a shift change -- two men leaving, and another taking their place.
"We take turns," said Antonio Reyna, 55, of Grand Rapids, as he warmed himself in an old SUV parked at Bob Evans restaurant. "Yeah, like right now it's his turn and later on it's going to be his turn."
He said he's laid off. He commutes to Cascade Township from his home in Plainfield Township.
It was there Target 8 watched for two hours on a recent evening as at least 30 motorists gave money to a panhandler. He didn't know Target 8 was watching.
He carried a sign: "Father of 2, laid off, homeless, hungry."
There was no cell phone and no car waiting for him.
Target 8 followed the man as he walked across to McDonald's restaurant, then down 28th Street to a Rapid bus stop. From there, he took was Bus No. 28 to Woodland Mall, then Bus No. 6 to the downtown bus station. Finally, Bus No. 9 dropped him off on the West Side.
His commute: Three bus rides and a four-block walk to an apartment above an old store front.
"I'm just living from week-to-week somewhere," Chuck Peckham said. "This is my brother's place."
In front of Target, Peckham can make $50 a day.
"I don't really like doing it; it's embarrassing to me, but I've got to do something to live, and I ain't a thief," he said.
Peckham, 39, has had minor run-ins with the law, including domestic assault and possession of marijuana. He said he
can't find a job and has been in and out of jail for not paying support for his two children.
"If I start talking about my situation, I'll get crying," he said.
Bethany Murk, 48, was arrested Thursday following a drug bust in Van Buren County.
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