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Grand Rapids Leaders Looking For ‘A Better Way’ To Stop Panhandling

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The first time the city of Grand Rapids adopted an ordinance to regulate panhanding, it was struck down by a federal judge for being unconstitutional.

Tuesday, city commissioners will address the issue again, as they consider making it illegal for panhandlers to ask drivers for money. Meanwhile, local ministries and businesses are asking the public to help the panhandlers in what they call “a better way”.

The proposed new ordinance would not allow panhandlers to beg from motorists. It would also make panhandling illegal within 15 feet of public toilets, ATMs, or public transportation, such as bus stops or taxi stands, or from people waiting in lines to get into concerts or other events at places like Van Andel Arena.

If the proposed ordinance goes into effect, Grand Rapids will become at least the seventh community in West Michigan to limit panhandling. The cities of Kentwood, Wyoming, Walker, Grandville and Hudsonville, along with Georgetown Township already have similar ordinances in place. And Cascade Township, where panhandlers are often seen at the entrance to Target on 28th Street, is considering its own ordinance, according to township officials.

"Take those dollars and put them to good use through those service providers that know how to help people transition into better lives.” – Kris Larson"

Kate O’Keefe of the Heartside Neighborhood Collaboration Project, Kris Larson of Downtown Grand Rapids Inc., and several local ministries have launched “Real Change, Not Spare Change,” which is a national program found in many cities across the country. Larson told our friends at WZZM-13 that the inspiration to launch the program came from hearing people at HNCP meetings talk about being “guilted” into giving to panhandlers.

“Take those dollars and put them to good use through those service providers that know how to help people transition into better lives,” Larson told WZZM. Examples of such service providers in Grand Rapids include – Family Promise of Grand Rapids, Guiding Light Mission, Degage Ministries, and Dwelling Place.

But, how does Real Change, Not Spare Change work? Any business can sign up to put a donation box next to its cash register. When you get your change after making your purchase, you can drop your spare change in the box, and all of that money goes to the local United Way 211, which distributes to the local services partnering with the program.

The program is a partnership with the city. A law might soon limit how panhandlers themselves ask for money, but the ministries hope you’ll remember why some of those organizations are there.

Businesses can contact Larson about getting a donation box, and O’Keefe says the public will start to see the boxes at Grand Rapids businesses in early June.

Last summer, WZZM-13 exposed the fact that many panhandlers weren’t who they said they were. They featured the story of a man named Rudy who held a sign claiming he was a homeless veteran when he, in fact, had never served in the military. One of our sister stations didn’t take kindly to this, and publicly called Rudy out while raising money for the Grand Rapids Home For Veterans.

Watch Our Sister Station Call Out The Phony Veteran

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