GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — City officials have rejected new rules suggested by the business community to deal with problems caused by the city’s homeless population.
Businesses have complained about a number of issues, from street fights and larcenies to combative behaviors in and near businesses.
Last week the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce asked the city commission to consider implementing ordinances for new rules, like not letting anyone sit or sleep in certain public spaces when there’s room at local shelters, setting zones where panhandling can happen along with cracking down on aggressive panhandling.
A host of business, health care leaders and homeless advocates who signed the Chamber’s letter to the commission say it’s a matter of public health and safety for all involved.
But critics claim the chamber’s suggestions amount to criminalizing homelessness.
Among them are members of the Grand Rapids City Commission’s Public Safety Committee, who often review new city ordinances before sending them on to the full commission.
“We have not seen the kind of necessary investments in this segment of our community from the city of Grand Rapids. And that’s a failure on our part,” said Kyle Lim, a citizen member of the Public Safety Committee who represent the First Ward. “(To) move towards or even considering ordinances that would further penalize those community members, I think is an outrage.“
City officials say there are already several rules on the books to deal with many of those issues. But they admit to easing up on enforcing them during the pandemic to reduce COVID-19 exposure.
More recently, police staffing has led to delayed responses to those complaints.
Mayor Rosalynn Bliss said there are other ways to address the issues.
“What are we currently doing to support individuals who are unhoused? How are we connecting with other resources? Where are the gaps that currently exist? What is our current response to both crime and complaints city wide, not just downtown?” Bliss told News 8.
Chamber officials agree that those other things need to happen as well.
They say they don’t consider the decision not to adopt new ordinances a loss.
They do say they accomplished another goal: To get people talking about the issue.
“It’s caused a great conversation I think,” Chamber President and CEO Rick Baker said. “We’re ready to stand with them in partnership and continue to address this issue.”