Proposed ordinances concentrating on panhandling and unhoused individuals in Grand Rapids are unconstitutional and would primarily criminalize homelessness, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Michigan wrote in a Thursday letter to Grand Rapids Mayor Rosalynn Bliss and metropolis commissioners.
“The town’s latest proposals exacerbate the challenges dealing with our unhoused residents by narrowing the already restricted areas by which they’ll exist and depriving them of their few possessions, slightly than genuinely addressing their wants,” mentioned Dayja Tillman, an legal professional on the ACLU of Michigan. “And, whereas not explicitly stating so, town once more makes an attempt to criminalize the act of panhandling.”
At 2 p.m. Tuesday, the Grand Rapids Metropolis Fee will maintain a public listening to on the proposed ordinance adjustments that may penalize an individual for “accosting” somebody by an ATM or whereas they’re consuming or ingesting outside. Below the proposal, a conviction of accosting somebody may lead to a effective of as much as $500 and jail for as much as 90 days.
The proposed guidelines would additionally allow town to confiscate what they deem to be “extra” or unattended private property stored in parks or on sidewalks. The proposal defines “extra” private property as something that may’t match right into a 32-gallon container.
The general public listening to will probably be held within the Metropolis Fee chambers on the ninth ground of the Grand Rapids Metropolis Corridor, situated at 300 Monroe Ave NW. The agenda for the July 11 assembly is posted on-line.
The proposed guidelines observe the Grand Rapids Space Chamber of Commerce, Mel Trotter Ministries, a nonprofit that works with unhoused individuals, and different downtown companies asking metropolis officers in December to particularly ban panhandling and outlaw individuals sitting or sleeping on sidewalks. These organizations had initially referred to as for fining those that sat or slept on sidewalks. Metropolis officers finally opted to not enact these adjustments.
Whereas the foundations presently earlier than the Metropolis Fee wouldn’t particularly ban people from asking for cash in public areas or sitting and sleeping on sidewalks, they “can deter constitutionally protected speech and habits, making a chilling impact,” Tillman mentioned.
The proposed adjustments are imprecise and would “disproportionately have an effect on the unhoused, significantly those that discover themselves with out entry to safe and authorized resting areas,” the ACLU of Michigan wrote in its letter.
“The deal with property removing and imposing extra restrictions serves to cover, slightly than assist, our unhoused inhabitants,” the ACLU wrote. “Making homelessness much less seen doesn’t finish homelessness, and packaging punitive measures with restricted supportive providers doesn’t make these measures much less dangerous.”
The ACLU referred to as the change concerning the confiscation of non-public property “one of the crucial regarding points of the proposal” and mentioned it will depart individuals to primarily retailer every little thing they personal into the equal of a “massive Hefty trash bag.”
Metropolis officers disagreed with the ACLU’s characterization of the proposed adjustments. Grand Rapids spokesperson Steve Guitar despatched the Advance a ready assertion issued Thursday “from town of Grand Rapids.”
“The Metropolis Fee is contemplating and accepting public feedback on proposed ordinance adjustments designed to take care of secure public areas for all,” the assertion mentioned. “The town employees have thought-about related legislation and constitutional issues in presenting the proposed ordinance adjustments for Metropolis Fee consideration.
“The proposed adjustments search to higher outline some beforehand undefined conduct,” the assertion continued. “The proposed adjustments are deliberately content material impartial. The proposed adjustments additionally embed due course of and different constitutional issues into Metropolis operations which might be geared toward guaranteeing general public well being and security. The main target of the out there cures within the proposed ordinance adjustments are civil and never prison in nature. Regardless of the mischaracterization of the proposed ordinance adjustments, the Metropolis of Grand Rapids stays dedicated to solution-based collaboration. We welcome public enter and can conduct a public listening to on the proposed ordinance adjustments on Tuesday, July 11 on the Metropolis Fee’s 2 p.m. assembly.”
The seven metropolis commissioners didn’t reply to requests for remark.
As an alternative of entertaining these adjustments, metropolis officers ought to “put money into actual beds” and “deal with options that can deal with homelessness, not criminalize it,” Tillman mentioned.
Homelessness, the ACLU of Michigan wrote in its letter, will not be a “prison habits” however slightly a “advanced societal points that calls for empathy, understanding and systemic motion. Recognizing the inherent dignity of each particular person, no matter their housing standing, is significant. Marginalizing the unhoused contributes to a cycle of despair, making it more durable for them to flee their circumstances.”
The town has beforehand drawn criticism for its strategy to homelessness, together with when it evicted unhoused people residing in tents in Heartside Park in downtown Grand Rapids in December 2020. At the moment, the ACLU additionally despatched a letter to Bliss, metropolis commissioners and different Grand Rapids officers asking that they not take away unhoused people from the park except town was in a position to present particular person housing at a time when the unfold of COVID-19 was a big concern.
The town of Grand Rapids has an ordinance banning individuals from tenting in a single day in public parks. That ban, the ACLU mentioned in its Thursday letter, can also be unconstitutional.
“For the unhoused, tents typically characterize essentially the most cheap and accessible type of shelter,” the ACLU’s letter mentioned. “In a metropolis that yearly averages 40 inches of rain and 76 inches of snow, and has winter temperatures under 20 levels, it’s unreasonable to count on anybody to sleep outdoors and not using a type of shelter.”
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