Grand Rapids Panhandlers Face Stiff Competition After Recent Court Ruling

If you have noticed more panhandlers dotting the busy intersections of Grand Rapids, you are not alone.  The fact is that the numbers of individuals holding signs begging for handouts has increased in recent weeks, partly due to a court ruling that made panhandling and begging legal.

With the help of the ACLU, two panhandlers brought the suit against Grand Rapids, claiming that panhandling is a form of free speech and violated their first amendment rights.   A U.S. district judge apparently agreed.

In August of this year, panhandlers have won their lawsuit. The city and state argued the law banning beggars was indeed constitutional.  They claimed that beggars harassed and annoyed the public and were bad for local businesses.

U.S. District Judge Robert J. Jonker ruled the anti-begging law violated not only the First Amendment, but the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment.

The sluggish economy, along with the recent court ruling has made begging and panhandling a competitive business.

James Speet, one of the two panhandlers that brought the suit against the city, could be found “working” the corner of 28th Street SW at US-131 in Wyoming. His sign reads, “Homeless, anything helps”.  Speet says that he begs for enough money to feed his family, but he did acknowledge that competition is getting more fierce in the begging business.  “People are out here who don’t need to be out here”, he says.

Reports of panhandlers making 50-100K per year in recent years are few and far between.  Many beggars have simply succumbed to tough times, and as one would guess, many have drug and alcohol problems.

At 28th Street SW and the East Beltline, Brittany Barber held a sign that read, “Pregnant & Homeless.”

“Life kind of spiraled out of control and I really needed the money to eat and have somewhere to sleep at night that’s warm; and it’s legal now so I thought what better way to make some money since it’s legal.”

She claims that other panhandlers have noticed her moving in on their business.

“They try telling me this is their corner. They’ve been here for such-and-such months,” she said. “I don’t  know; they try to claim the corner, I guess, if that makes any sense. Very territorial.”

As colder weather moves in, the frequency of panhandlers may be diminish around the Grand Rapids area, but plan on warmer spring weather bring many more out of the woodwork.

One Comment

  • Miho says:

    SR is an alternative to panhandling, and we do recruit people who want to be vendors, but it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. We built this campaign w/the hopes that panhandlers, and SR vendors could co-exist along w/businesses, petitioners, and the general public that shares the sidewalk. – Israel Bayer

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