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'People need to feel safe': Grand Rapids businesses push city to ban aggressive panhandling

The businesses say they've seen harassment, public defecation, trespassing, public sex acts, verbal and physical assault, and other disturbing behavior.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Businesses are concerned about the wellbeing of residents, employees and visitors in downtown Grand Rapids and they're calling for the city to do something.

They, along with the Grand Rapids Chamber, are pushing for the adoption of an ordinance to ban harassment and more.

Managers of certain businesses along Monroe Center didn't want to speak on camera, but they told 13 ON YOUR SIDE that individuals displaying aggressive behavior or struggling with mental health issues is a daily occurrence. 

The Grand Rapids Chamber wrote a letter to the City Manager Mark Washington last week saying employers in the business districts and the downtown area are concerned about the health, safety and welfare of residents, employees and visitors.

They've witnessed harassment, public defecation, trespassing, public sex acts, verbal and physical assault, and other disruptive and disturbing behavior. 

They're specifically requesting a few things:

  • Prohibit sitting or lying in specific public spaces if there's adequate shelter space available to those in need.
  • Prohibit aggressive solicitation, harassment and intimidation.
  • Define where solicitation is allowed (zoning it.)   

GRPD Chief Eric Winstrom says he has heard businesses' concerns and would support a lawful ordinance.

"Possibly decoupling an ordinance of aggressive panhandling and focusing more on what is the aggressive behavior taking place whether it's following someone or being too close to someone at an ATM. Something like that," said Winstrom. 

"I could show data that downtown Grand Rapids compared to other cities of the same size is very safe, however if people don't feel safe, we're not winning. We're not getting there because people need to feel safe and come down, spend their money here and bring their families."

The Chamber wants to make clear that they do not want to criminalize homelessness or ban panhandling which is a first amendment right. They want to improve outcomes for people experiencing homelessness, substance abuse and/or mental health issues.

Various employers and business owners are expected to speak during public comment of a city commission meeting starting at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 6. 


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