In light of federal ruling, Grand Rapids looks to restrict “aggressive” panhandling

May 13, 2014

Proposed changes to Grand Rapids ordinance would ban people from asking for money from people driving cars.
Credit Brian D. Hawkins / Creative Commons

Grand Rapids police used to use a state law outlawing panhandling to arrest hundreds of people over the years. But a federal judge struck down that law as too broad, saying it impinged on free speech rights.

So now the city is trying to narrow when, where, and how people can ask for money.

Panhandling from drivers on the side of the road, for example, would be illegal.

Grand Rapids’ attorney Catherine Mish says it can cause accidents and be dangerous for the person asking for money. Mish says a person panhandling was hit by a car just this week.

The changes would also outlaw asking for money within 15 feet of an ATM or bus stop and repeatedly asking for money after someone has already said no.

Mish says the changes are based on a Kentwood ordinance that was upheld in Kent County Circuit Court after the federal judge ruled against Grand Rapids.

She says a new effort launched this week will try to get people who want to help panhandlers to donate money to charity instead.

“If there is an individual who truly needs food assistance or clothing assistance or work boots to start a new job, or a bus pass or something to enable them to gain productive employment, there are service agencies in the city of Grand Rapids ready and willing to help,” Mish said.

The city commission will hold a public hearing on the proposed changes next week.