GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) – City commissioners will soon reopen a once-controversial debate: a ban on panhandling.
After the American Civil Liberties Union sued Grand Rapids and the state of Michigan, a federal judge ruled in 2012 that a statewide ban on begging conflicted with the right to free speech. Soon after, the city saw a spike in panhandlers.
The city tried to limit panhandling in 2014, but the measure failed. Three years later, Dave Shaffer, the city commissioner representing Grand Rapids’ 1st Ward, told 24 Hour News 8 that this proposal is different.
“It’s really about safety in our streets and ultimately how do we get that to where we have zero pedestrian crashes and distracted driving,” Shaffer said.
Shaffer explained that this ordinance would focus on public safety. It’s not an attack on panhandling, he said.
Contrary to the failed 2014 proposal, this ordinance doesn’t ban begging outright all the time. But, it would prohibit panhandling citywide from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.>>PDF: Full plan to amend panhandling ordinance
Traffic studies done over a decade identified those as the busiest drive times.
Additionally, eight well-traveled intersections were identified as “intersections of heightened safety concerns.” No one would be able to ask for donations at those areas at any time.
Here’s the list:
- 28th Street & Eastern Avenue
- Cherry Street & Division Avenue
- Fulton Street & Monroe Avenue
- Fulton Street & Ottawa Alley
- Lyon Street & Division Avenue
- Lyon Street & Ottawa Avenue
- Michigan Street & Fuller Avenue
- Weston Street & Division Avenue
24 Hour News 8 met a man named Mark as he asked for donations at Michigan Street and Fuller Avenue during rush hour on Friday.
He’s a regular there and said that he knows a handful of other panhandlers who flock to that popular spot frequently.
“Sometimes all four corners are covered on this intersection,” he said. “Sometimes you got to wait to get a spot.”
Mark wasn’t too happy to learn of the looming possibility of panhandling restrictions. He believes city officials could focus their time on more important issues.
The ordinance drafted imposes a civil infraction fine for people caught breaking the restrictions.
Four violations would cost $500 in fines or 90 days in jail.
Mark, who is homeless, said that will only create another problem once people can’t pay.
As for paying the fines, Shaffer said there would be warnings issued as this rolls out.
He also mentioned another component city leaders are working on. They want to work with local agencies to get panhandlers into jobs, he said.
There’s a public hearing on the proposal at 7 p.m. on Dec. 12 at City Hall.
City commissioners will discuss the next steps that next week, Shaffer said.**Correction: A previous version of this article stated the ACLU sued the city in 2014. That lawsuit actually came before the 2012 decision by a federal judge that found a state law against panhandling unconstitutional. We regret the error, which has been corrected.