Kalamazoo city commissioners vote to crack down on panhandling downtown

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Cracking Down on Panhandling

KALAMAZOO, Mich. — City commissioners unanimously voted Monday night to move an amendment to the city’s existing panhandling ordinance forward after a first reading to include language specifically targeting the downtown area.

Kalamazoo has had an begging and panhandling ban on the books since 2006, but city leaders argued it didn’t include enough protections for patrons and businesses downtown, specifically in and around the Kalamazoo Mall and Bronson Park.

“In 2006, the downtown area didn’t have as many outdoor cafes and patios as now,” said Clyde Robinson, Kalamazoo city attorney. “It became apparent to me that it’s been a growing issue for many of the residents and downtown businesses.”

Robinson said during Monday’s meeting that several downtown businesses and patrons as well as the downtown development authority recently expressed concerns over panhandlers being too aggressive and, in some cases, driving away customers altogether.

The amendment adds language to protect patrons in outdoor spaces, such as patios or park benches who have the “right to be left alone.”

“The only change we’re making here is to say if a person is downtown, they’re at either one of those enclosed [patio] areas they are not to be solicited,” Robinson said. “And if you’re using the other areas with picnic tables or benches, you can’t be approached unless you consent to being approached.”

Here is how the new language reads:

  • “No person shall solicit in or on public place any person who occupies table, bench, or seat located in public place except with that person’s consent.”
  • “No person shall solicit in an aggressive manner which includes soliciting anyone who is within an enclosed area, as defined by fencing, gates, or other means of separation where food and/or beverages are being served for immediate consumption in a public place.”

Several of the commissioners, including Stephanie Moore, expressed positive sentiments about the amendment, saying the city has managed to preserve both the personal rights of patrons while also protecting the First Amendment rights of panhandlers.

“Some people are extremely aggressive, even some of the people you may want to help because you’re empathetic to the situation, but sometimes it can be dangerous, because you just don’t know,”  Moore said during the meeting. “So I don’t think this is a way to try and disenfranchise anyone. I think it’s a way to help and protect and assist people, especially those who are homeless.”

Kalamazoo resident Ian Valenzuela, who said he also used to be homeless, spoke out against the amendment during the meeting.

“If you’re going to start shutting our mouths so that we can’t ask for stuff, what are we supposed to do then, where are these people supposed to go?” he said. “These people are going to do what they have to out there to survive, it’s as simple as that.”

Valenzuela said he fought against the initial ordinance when it was passed eight years ago.

The amendment will take effect within 10 days of it being passed.

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  • @Kalamazoo_WMU

    There is a substantial factual error in this article. The ordinance amendment was brought up for first reading tonight. The vote was to schedule a public hearing on the amendment for the next City Commission meeting (Monday, November 3). Following that hearing in two weeks, the commission will hold the real vote for this amendment. If that vote is successful, then the amendments will go into effect 10 days after that, around November 13.

    The practical effect of the existing ordinance and these amendments is minimal, because the police do not actively enforce this ordinance.

  • @Kalamazoo_WMU

    The video attached to this story makes the same substantial factual error. The video concludes by saying the amendments were approved and go into effect in 10 days. That is factually incorrect. No amendment has been passed yet.

    Come back to Kalamazoo on Monday, November 3 to actually see these ordinance amendments passed.