Panhandlers Have More Freedom At ArtPrize 2013, Due to Change in Law

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This year’s ArtPrize will offer new opportunities for those asking for money from visitors following the defeat of a law that once prohibited panhandling in Grand Rapids.

Those who depend on others to survive like Randy Jones and Jim Combs are hoping ArtPrize crowds increase their income over the coming weeks.

“I`m hoping to increase cash flow,” said Randy Jones, a panhandler in Grand Rapids.

“I`m hoping. I have my fingers crossed,” said Jim Combs, of Grand Rapids.

Most downtown ArtPrize visitors that we talked to had already been approached by someone asking for money.

Ralph Messer said he was asked two times on Wednesday. “I asked a lot of questions, ‘What do you need the money for?  Do you need it?’. I gave one money and the other I didn`t.” said Messer.

Others were asked to buy food.

Two mom’s with babies in tow were asked to buy alcohol.

“We had one person this morning who asked us for a beer,” said Kelly Kading, ArtPrize visitor.

“I thought it was a little inappropriate that he asked two mothers with babies and carriages to buy beer,” said Shelle Crandell, ArtPrize visitor.

Some of the regular panhandlers we talked to in Grand Rapids, like Jones, said they didn`t even know the anti-panhandling law had been shot down.

“I love it. It`s going to help me out quite a lot. As long as they don`t overturn the law again,” said Jones.

The American Civil Liberties Union released a statement in mid-August saying, “In a victory for free speech, the federal court of appeals ruled unanimously that Michigan`s state law criminalizing peaceful panhandling in all public places is unconstitutional.”

Jones said that decision, plus the lure of Art Prize money will actually bring more pan handlers downtown.

That will increase the competitiveness for visitor’s generosity.

“Yes, it does. Everybody wants that cash in their hand,” said Jones.

Combs agrees.

Although he prefers to stay away from large crowds, he says many have moved where the art is.

“I was out here yesterday and there was seven or eight people out here trying to scrap for the corner,” said Combs.

While some visitors get frustrated, others say they’re happy to help those who really need the assistance.

“There`s some people out there that need the money,” said Messer.

“I think there should be more resources available to them,” said Kerri Stiverson, ArtPrize visitor.

“Somebody who’s in that situation who’s doing it honestly, you know. They’re going to do what they have to do. So, I try not to judge people.” said Kelly Kading, ArtPrize visitor.

The lawsuit against that anti-panhandling law was originally filed in September of 2011, according to the ACLU. It was shot down by the federal appeals court in August of 2013.

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