GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Business and community leaders have asked the city of Grand Rapids to enact two ordinances aimed at people who are homeless asking for money or loitering in downtown.

The proposed ordinances prohibit sitting down in specific public spaces and regulate when someone can ask for money. Those who proposed the ordinances say they do not “criminalize homelessness” or “ban panhandling.”


In a letter to Grand Rapids city commissioners and the mayor, community leaders asked the city to consider the ordinances “to promote the safety, health and well-being of unhoused individuals, residents and all persons working in or visiting the City of Grand Rapids.”

“The ongoing concerns from residents and employers related to harassment, public defecation, trespassing, assault and other disruptive and disturbing behavior needs to be addressed with an intentional and compassionate focus on improving outcomes for individuals experiencing homelessness or struggling with mental health,” the letter reads.

The letter was signed by more than 100 business leaders and residents, including leaders with Amway Grand Plaza Hotel, JW Marriott, Ellis Parking and the DeVos Family Foundation.

A separate letter, signed by the presidents of Corewell Health West (previously Spectrum Health), Trinity Health Saint Mary’s, University of Michigan Health-West and Cherry Health supported the proposal.

“Combined with other efforts to increase the supply of affordable housing, provide mental health support, and improve outcomes amongst service providers, new City of Grand Rapids ordinances should be considered to encourage greater use of available resources while also encouraging a safe and secure environment for unhoused people and the larger community,” the letter states.

The leaders of Mel Trotter Ministries and Degage Ministries, two organizations that serve people in Grand Rapids who are homeless, also signed that letter. In a news release from the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce, the president and CEO of Mel Trotter Ministries called for “common sense steps.”

“If this was about criminalizing homelessness, I would not be standing here,” Dennis Van Kampen, the president and CEO of Mel Trotter Ministries, said in the release. “It is neither compassionate nor safe to make it easy for people living on the streets. We need to take common sense steps toward the best solutions possible and address the issues of mental health and affordable housing.”


The first ordinance addresses “aggressive solicitation and harassment.” It would, among other things, make it illegal to ask for money within 15 feet of a public bathroom or public transportation, within 20 feet of a parking lot, parking garage, parking meter or the entrance of a commercially-zoned property.

Under the proposed ordinance, people would not be allowed to ask for money from drivers, people waiting in line or in an outdoor dining areas.

It would also be illegal to ask for money while ‘accosting’ someone, while touching that person without their consent, while forcing company on someone, while using profane or abusive language, or while blocking someone from moving.

People could also not solicit money while under the influence of alcohol or the illegal use of a controlled substance.

Leaders have proposed a fine of up to $100 or probation for a first offense, and a fine of up to $500, time in jail or probation for subsequent offenses.


The second proposed ordinance would make it illegal to “sit, kneel, recline or lie down” in a public right of way area, like sidewalks, alleys or streets.

People could still sit down during a medical emergency, while watching a parade or waiting for public transportation, among other exceptions.

Leaders have proposed a fine of up to $100 or probation for a first offense, and a fine of up to $500, time in jail or probation for subsequent offenses.


During the Grand Rapids City Commission meeting Tuesday, some spoke out against the proposed ordinances.

One person who spoke during public comment said business leaders “don’t ever come to these meetings unless it has to do with them.”

“They don’t come here on regular days to talk about the city and what they want to do make it better,” he said. “(They come) when they want to criminalize something in the city for nothing, like criminalizing houselessness, which you’re about to do. You want to see more people die at the hands of the police? You want to turn into a city where houseless people can’t even be on the street without being harassed by the police?”

Some commissioners also expressed concerns about the proposal, including First Ward Commissioner Kurt Reppart.

“We have six ordinances on the books that are not currently being enforced. Why would we add another one?” Reppart said. “If people are tired of cleaning up poop and pee, I wish that they would come and just say, ‘Would you please build more bathrooms downtown?'”

The commission said it will continue to have discussions over the concerns. It is expected to be discussed during next week’s public safety committee meeting.