FOX 17 Introduces You To A Local Panhandler Trying To Make It On The Streets

Posted at 10:00 PM, May 13, 2014
and last updated 2014-05-14 08:18:17-04

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (May 13, 2014) — City commissioners voted Tuesday to schedule a public hearing on May 20 to consider a proposed panhandling ordinance.

Jason Smith could be affected. He’s been panhandling for about seven years.

“I fell off a roof,” Smith said. “I’m not able to work no more. I was a roofer all my life.” He showed FOX 17 a scar on his back, a reminder of what he said ended a reliable source of income.

For more than eight decades, Michigan outlawed panhandling, but a federal court ruled the ban was unconstitutional, a violation of the First Amendment.

That actually made life harder for Smith. With panhandling legal, there’s more competition. “Today I’ve only made 4 dollars all day.”

Rules on panhandling could get tighter once again as Grand Rapids officials look to copy Kentwood’s approach.

“Judge Redford of the Kent County Circuit Court ruled that the Kentwood ordinance is constitutional,” said Grand Rapids City Attorney Catherine Mish. “So the city of Grand Rapids is relying upon that court ruling to adopt the same ordinance language that’s already been upheld.”

For one, it would be illegal under new rules for Smith to ask for money from drivers, which is what he does now. Mish said that activity has the potential to cause accidents.

Mish said there are other restrictions:

A ban on panhandling within 15 feet of a public restroom, a bus stop, or an ATM.
A ban on begging from anyone waiting in a line.
A ban on repeated begging and accosting (aggressive begging).

However, Smith said he knows his boundaries. “If a car calls me over in the other lane, I don’t go over there,” Smith said.

He said if and when the ordinance language is approved, he’ll  still be on his corner.

“This is my means for survival. I mean, I’ve got to support myself somehow. I’ve got to do something,” Smith said.

The vote on the proposed ordinance is scheduled for June 3.