One after the other, the individuals who waited for hours to talk stepped as much as a microphone in entrance of the Grand Rapids Metropolis Fee on Tuesday. Don’t, the overwhelming majority of them mentioned, help two proposed ordinances they mentioned would goal unhoused folks and additional hurt a few of society’s most weak members.
The 2 proposed ordinances – one which might penalize an individual for “accosting” somebody by an ATM or whereas they’re consuming or consuming outdoor and one other that will allow town to confiscate what they deem to be “extra” or unattended private property saved in parks or on sidewalks — basically criminalize homelessness, residents informed commissioners. The overwhelming majority of the 50-plus individuals who spoke throughout the two public hearings on Tuesday urged commissioners to reject the adjustments, with many saying the ordinances would give carte blanche to Grand Rapids police to take away unhoused folks from areas the place rich residents don’t need to work together with their neighbors who’re struggling, residents informed commissioners.
“There may be an alternate universe the place the subject of the unhoused is being dealt with in GR with true stability and compassion, with leaders who’ve the heart to level the finger at these creating the issue and take motion to curtail them … in after which there’s the timeline all of us dwell in,” Grand Rapids resident Lucas Leverett mentioned throughout the fee’s public hearings on the 2 ordinances that stretched for almost 5 hours on Tuesday.
Metropolis leaders mentioned throughout the assembly that the proposed ordinances are supposed to deter harassment, guarantee public security and assist enterprise house owners who’ve cited points with public urination, bodily intimidation and different habits they mentioned has left employees and clients feeling unsafe.
“It’s not simply that persons are standing there, and so they scoop them up; there are situations to it,” Metropolis Legal professional Anita Hitchock mentioned following Tuesday’s public listening to. “It isn’t simply that they ask somebody for cash and get arrested. The conduct needs to be repeated, non-consensual conduct. It has to get to a degree the place the individual feels harassed or intimidated. They’re not going to be scooped up for asking for cash.”
Underneath one proposed ordinance, penalizing an individual for “accosting” somebody by an ATM or round an out of doors eating house might end in a high quality of as much as $500 and jail for as much as 90 days. The opposite proposed rule would enable town to confiscate “extra” private property – which is now outlined as something that may’t match right into a 32-gallon container.
The proposed adjustments, which the fee has but to vote on, observe the Grand Rapids Space Chamber of Commerce; Mel Trotter Ministries, a nonprofit that works with unhoused folks; and different downtown companies asking metropolis officers in December to particularly ban panhandling and outlaw folks sitting or sleeping on sidewalks. These organizations had initially known as for fining individuals who sat or slept on sidewalks. Metropolis officers in the end opted to not enact these adjustments.
Josh Lunger, Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce’s vice chairman of presidency affairs, on Tuesday thanked commissioners for contemplating the ordinances at the moment earlier than them.
“These ordinances which are being introduced ahead are slender, and so they’re focused towards habits,” Lunger mentioned. “I do know there’s overlap. I do know that housing is a large difficulty – it’s certainly one of our high priorities, and we’re engaged on it always.”
Others who echoed Lunger’s approval of the adjustments have been Sam Cummings, the managing companion of CWD Actual Property Growth, and John Helmholdt, president of the Grand Rapids-based public relations agency SeyferthPR.
“These ordinances … don’t have anything to do with residential standing, and so they have every thing to do with respectful behaviors,” Cummings mentioned.
However lots of those that spoke throughout the public hearings mentioned it’s the police who’re harassing people who’re unhoused, not those that are unhoused inflicting hurt to anybody else. Residents mentioned commissioners ought to, as a substitute of backing these ordinances, give attention to addressing housing insecurity in Grand Rapids, and audio system on Tuesday mentioned class discriminations have been embedded within the proposed ordinances. One individual requested why it was that politicians repeatedly asking for cash – which they known as “excessive class panhandling” – wouldn’t be deemed as “accosting.”
“I discover it surprising to be sitting right here on this metropolis that’s turning into a carnival for the wealthy,” Grand Rapids resident Martha Cooper mentioned. “And also you all haven’t found any technique to peel off any cash from wherever to really rehouse folks. … I’m trying and saying, ‘Who’s harassing who?’”
Courtney Myers-Keaton, director of the Grand Rapids Space Coalition to Finish Homelessness however spoke as a resident of Grand Rapids, mentioned the ordinances would additional hurt already marginalized folks.
“The language stays ambiguous and subjective,” Myers-Keaton mentioned of the proposed adjustments. “And I believe there are specific people who usually tend to be on the enforcement finish of those proposed adjustments. These would come with, however are usually not restricted to, individuals who already face discrimination, similar to Black and brown people, individuals who’re assumed to be unhoused and members of our LGBTQ+ group.”
Dayja Tillman, an legal professional with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Michigan, reiterated her group’s assertion issued final week that the proposed adjustments are unconstitutional.
“These amendments, whereas framed as essential for public security, would seemingly disproportionately have an effect on our unhoused residents,” Tillman mentioned.
“One actually regarding side of the modification” is defining “extra” property as something that doesn’t slot in a 32-gallon container – and town having the ability to then confiscate that, Tillman mentioned. Whereas people would have the ability to retrieve their confiscated objects from town, plenty of residents and advocates mentioned unhoused people typically face transportation obstacles and will not know they’ll have their objects returned.
“Think about making an attempt to suit your total life, your garments, your luggage, your papers, your meals, your recollections, your private home right into a container that’s the dimensions of a trash bag,” Tillman mentioned.
She added that the ACLU fears “these new measures, with their obscure and overbroad definitions, might result in discriminatory enforcement and additional marginalize our most weak communities.
“We have now to keep in mind that homelessness shouldn’t be a criminal offense; it’s a complicated, societal difficulty that calls for our empathy, our understanding of systemic motion as a group,” Tillman mentioned. “Criminalizing or penalizing behaviors elementary to the expertise of being unhoused solely pushes our neighbors additional into the margins of society, exacerbating their struggles.”
Quite a few audio system echoed Tillman’s issues and questioned what occurs if treatment, identification paperwork or different essential objects have been confiscated by town. Previous to the general public listening to, Metropolis Commissioner Milinda Ysasi questioned metropolis officers about this.
Deputy Metropolis Supervisor Mary Kate Berens informed commissioners that town has a “Housing Outreach Crew” that may work with unhoused people on the place they’ll retailer extra property, together with at Mel Trotter, people could be given discover that their property goes to be confiscated, and folks will have the ability to retrieve their belongings from town.
“We are also conscious of these sorts of crucial items of property being blended in with property we might impound,” Berens mentioned. “…It won’t be good; I’ve to say that. However we are going to do our greatest.”
Jeff Smith, a Grand Rapids resident who’s a volunteer organizer with the Grand Rapids Space Tenant Union, mentioned the proposed adjustments are “deeply problematic and merciless” and “won’t clear up the a lot bigger downside, which is housing insecurity.” He famous that the Grand Rapids Space Tenant Union, a bunch that advocates for tenants’ rights, each day receives “cellphone calls, electronic mail messages, prompt messaging from tenants who’re underneath risk of eviction, who’re coping with landlords and property administration firms that gained’t repair or make essential repairs, who’re always harassing them.
“I believe it’s vital that whereas we’re speaking concerning the unhoused folks in Grand Rapids, significantly people in our downtown, that I believe we have to increase our notion concerning the difficulty of the unhoused and give it some thought as people who find themselves housing insecure as a result of there are actually tens of 1000’s of individuals within the metropolis who’re housing insecure, who’re one paycheck away, who’re one eviction court docket listening to away from being kicked out of their house,” Smith continued.
Smith went on to learn an announcement from the Grand Rapids Space Tenant Union that has been signed by plenty of native grassroots teams, together with the City Core Collective, the Purple Venture and numerous faith-based organizations.
“We consider that housing is a human proper,” Smith learn. “We consider that folks come earlier than income, earlier than property. We consider there shouldn’t be one individual unhoused within the metropolis of Grand Rapids proper now. And if any of you had spoken up in opposition to the revenue mongering of landlords and monetary establishments, we’d not be witnessing the numbers of individuals shedding their houses and residing within the streets, of their vehicles or in momentary housing.
“We won’t stand to your actions to cowl your evils by punishing those that are poor, by unleashing the violence of the police on them, by fining and incarcerating them,” Smith continued. “Our unhoused neighbors deserve respect, help and, most of all, housing.”
Grand Rapids Metropolis Supervisor Mark Washington mentioned after the general public hearings that town is engaged on increasing inexpensive housing. Metropolis commissioners, he famous, in June permitted a $500,000 contract with the group Group Rebuilders to offer momentary housing for 15 to twenty unhoused people. Washington additionally identified that there’s about $10 million within the metropolis’s Fiscal Yr 2024 for packages addressing housing and homelessness.
“There’s quite a lot of work that’s happening,” Washington mentioned.
Helmholdt, of SeyferthPR, praised these initiatives.
“I consider that is one other core difficulty that you just as elected officers and metropolis leaders are actually taking a complete method to be inclusive, to place funding the place it must be,” Helmhold mentioned of addressing points round homelessness.
However Kent County Commissioner Ivan Diaz mentioned the work being achieved to handle homelessness is “not almost sufficient.”
“I believe that is fully the improper route to go,” Diaz mentioned of the proposed ordinances.
Janet Zahn of the Grand Rapids Local weather Coalition agreed with Diaz.
“To exclude the unhoused from downtown as a result of their presence makes folks uncomfortable shouldn’t be an efficient reply to a really actual downside,” Zahn mentioned. “I invite you, us to sit down with that discomfort and use it to propel us to hunt options that don’t trample civil rights or criminalize homelessness.
“The town of Grand Rapids insurance policies have lengthy been dominated by the Chamber of Commerce and titans of downtown” Zahn continued. “Their imaginative and prescient of protected and welcoming has very actual limitations.”
Others emphasised that the answer shouldn’t be so simple as guaranteeing there may be house for everybody at an area shelter. Jacob Doorn, a housing specialist on the Incapacity Advocates of Kent County, mentioned the “system we’ve in place proper now could be merely not accessible” for these with disabilities. For instance, folks with post-traumatic stress dysfunction (PTSD) or extreme anxiousness could also be unable to remain in a standard shelter, Doorn mentioned, leaving them to reside in public parks or streets.
Metropolis officers mentioned the following steps almost about the ordinances embrace potential adjustments to the principles following the general public hearings. Metropolis commissioners might vote on the proposed ordinances at their assembly at 7 p.m. July 25. The assembly will happen within the Metropolis Fee chambers on the ninth flooring of the Grand Rapids Metropolis Corridor, 300 Monroe Ave. NW.
Following Tuesday’s hearings, some metropolis commissioners mentioned they might weigh what the general public mentioned throughout the hearings and their closing selections on ordinances weren’t set in stone.
“My ears are open; my coronary heart is open to listening to suggestions,” Metropolis Commissioner Kelsey Perdue mentioned.
Perdue additionally expressed frustration following the general public hearings.
“You all named every thing that’s improper – the end result of failed techniques and injustice,” she mentioned. “We have now to determine what we will do throughout the realm of our management with finite assets in such a divided time as this.”
Ysasi echoed related issues.
“It’s exhausting typically to sit down up right here; this assembly felt like we have to repair every thing on this world,” Ysasi mentioned. “However I can’t. I’ve to consider what’s in entrance of me and what’s in my circle of management, my circle of affect.”
Metropolis Commissioner Lisa Knight mentioned “there are such a lot of issues we’ve to take into context with this entire state of affairs.
“Ought to it weigh on the aspect of individuals with extra energy and cash? No,” Knight mentioned. “Ought to it weigh on the aspect of those that have been unlucky? No. It’s going to weigh throughout the board. We have to assist those that want help, and we have to assist our group thrive.”