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

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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.

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  • Mike

    I came across one begging at Plainfield and I96, claiming to be a homeless Vet. I was on my way to the Grand Rapids VA Clinic and offered him a lift to the center. He could have got help there and he turned me down. I don't feel sorry for someone who turns down an offer like that would have helped him out.

  • CommonSense

    Hey Jason, if you can stand around on a street all day long begging, you can be in a classroom learning another trade, or better yet, you CAN find a job badly enough if you want to work.
    Key phrase here "wanting to work."
    Quit leaching off from your fellow man!
    There are those that need help and then there are those that thing they are "entitled."

  • Mandy

    I agree 100% with common sense, if ur physically able to walk to your corner carrying a back pack pull out your sign and stand for 2-12 hrs a day then you can stand your behind at a burger king counter saying "may I take your order please".. I was once living in my car and had 2 jobs paying child support and I begged nobody for anything. Things are not ment to be handed to you, they must be earned and standing looking sad on a Corner isn't earning is a poor excuse of an American.. Ppl now a days have just gotten lazy and feel entitled to everything for nothing. GET A JOB!!!! A real one

  • Cheyanne

    This is my dad and I promise you he could work if he had the drive to, but he doesn’t. He’s a alcoholic who spends the money he gets from panhandeling on alcohol. He was living in a apartment for alcoholics and got kicked out because he decided to drink again. He did this to himself and no one should give him money it won’t help him it will only get him drunk.