GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — From downtown Grand Rapids to the nearby West Side, problems caused by people who are homeless are on the rise.
“It’s gotten worst through the years,” Fratelli’s Restaurant owner Maria Cannizzio said.
Cannizzo and her husband own Fratellis Kitchen and Bar and Fratellis Pizza on Bridge Street. They help out all the time, providing food, water and even coats for their homeless neighbors.
But problem persist, like when two homeless people walked into the restaurant last Saturday night.
“You could just smell, it was embarrassing,” Cannizzo said. “There were some patrons sitting down eating and I kind of shrugged my shoulders. It makes them feel uncomfortable.”
Grand Rapids Chamber Area of Commerce officials say that’s not the worst of it.
“You see things like public defecation, harassment, assault and other issues like that on a too-often basis,” said Josh Lunger, the Chamber’s vice president for government affairs.
So the Chamber sent the Grand Rapids City Commission a list of steps they want the city to take to get a better handle on the problem.
Among those steps: creating ordinances prohibiting sitting or lying in public spaces if shelter space is available, regulating aggressive solicitation and intimidation by panhandlers, and create a zone where solicitation is allowed in the city.
“Our letter was requesting that we get to the outcomes. And we suggested some ways we thought could do it based on what we’ve seen elsewhere. But we know that was never going to be the only solution,” Lunger said.
He added the ideas are also a way to get city hall talking about solutions beyond enforcement.
“Is there more we could be doing holistically to get folks the services that are there, and if there are gaps in the systems, how do we identify that and get that expedited so that we can start to get better outcomes?” he said.
The letter to the commission was signed by a number of business and organizations, including Mel Trotter Ministries President and CEO Dennis Van Kampen.
“This is an issue of safety. Not a nuisance issue,” Van Kampen said. “The letters around these ordinances hopefully will serve to not only bring up those discussions but will actually serve to inspire the community to come up with solutions that are fair and equitable for everyone.”
Mayor Rosalynn Bliss told News 8 the city will take a closer look at the recommendations and have a discussion on the issue at next week’s public safety committee session.
But some commissioners are less than enthusiastic, saying the Chamber’s proposals aren’t addressing the root causes of the problem.
“We may not want to criminalize homelessness. I believe that you do not want to criminalize homelessness. But we will,” Second Ward City Commissioner Milinda Ysasi said while addressing the Chamber’s suggestions during Tuesday night’s Commission meeting.
The commission will have three new faces come the first of the year, who will come with their ideas on how to best approach dealing with the issue.
“I would like for the commission to make it a regular discussion of what progress are we making towards making towards a list of items that can say, ‘This will make an impact,'” Lunger said.