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Grand Rapids City Commission discuss new ordinances some have called an "attack on homelessness"

Commissioners reject notion it would criminalize panhandling.

The Grand Rapids City Commission held a public hearing Tuesday on proposed ordinance changes that some critics are calling “an attack on the unhoused.”

In a letter to the City of Grand Rapids from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) last week, the ACLU said the proposed ordinance changes would “disproportionately affect the unhoused” and was a veiled attempt by city hall to “criminalize panhandling.”

“We are not criminalizing anybody at all,” Grand Rapids City Commissioner Nathaniel Moody said Tuesday. “We are trying to make the city better for everyone.”

At the public hearing, officials explained that the city is not taking away an unhoused person’s ability to sleep in public spaces or ask for change at stoplights. Rather, the ordnance would penalize a person from “accosting” someone at an ATM, or asking for money from patrons eating or drinking outside at an establishment.

Meanwhile, the second ordinance would authorize the city to confiscate what is deemed an “excess of personal property left on public property.”

“The city has for several years invested in a personal property storage partnership with Mel Trotter (Ministries,”) said Grand Rapids Deputy City Manager Mary-Kate Berens. “So, there is personal property storage options available for those experiencing homelessness.”

The city commission did not vote on the ordinances, that will come at a future date.

The proposals are in response to a number of Grand Rapids business owners who have complained about the city’s growing unhoused population and the dramatic rise in “criminal activity” downtown after sunset.