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Latest GR Chamber of Commerce letter is calling for the City of Grand Rapids to adopt an ordinance that would essentially punish the unhoused in downtown Grand Rapids

December 6, 2022

During Tuesday’s Grand Rapids City Commission meeting, it was acknowledged that the Commission had received a communication from Josh Lunger, the Vice President of Governmental Affairs, for the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce. 

The communication from Lunger can be found in the City Commission Agenda Packet for December 6th, on pages 41 – 47. The Chamber of Commerce letter crafted by Lunger, was dated November 29, with the subject being, Request for Action to Improve Health & Safety in Public Spaces. 

You will recall that this is not the first letter that Lunger has written to the Grand Rapids City Commission under the theme of “public safety.” The GR Chamber representative wrote a letter in July of 2022, calling for an increased presence of the GRPD to deal with people who Lunger claimed were a threat to the safety and commerce of the people and businesses in downtown Grand Rapids. 

Just weeks before the November Election, there was local news coverage concerning Lunger and his role in the campaign known as SafeGR, which specifically targeted 1st Ward Commissioner Kurt Reppart and presented information about crime and safety in Grand Rapids, information that GRIID noted was misinformation. We wrote a piece the day after the election which stated:

In addition, the SafeGR campaign used bogus information, which was designed to paint a picture that Grand Rapids is experiencing a crime wave and that less police would mean more crime. Neither of these claims are true, and even one of the sources they used around public opinion and safety doesn’t support their claim. Go to this link, which SafeGR cited, and then click on the heading Safety. 

As one more piece of context for this latest letter from Lunger, it is important to note that the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce, Lunger’s employer, contributed $10,500 to Andrew Robbins, who was running for Reppart’s seat in the 1st Ward. The GR Chamber provided that kind of money, which ultimately helped Robbins win the election under a platform of more cops. 

The most recent letter by Lunger continues the GR Chamber’s plea for increased GRPD presence in the downtown, except in the current letter, there are more developed proposals that would clearly target and punish those who are unhoused. What is instructive about the language that the letter from Lunger/GR Chamber of Commerce is using, are two things. First, the letter wants the City of Grand Rapids to adopt ordinances that would punish the unhoused or are not compliant, and second, the letter goes out of its way to say that these ordinances will “not criminalize homelessness.” 

However, despite the Chamber’s claim that this will not criminalize homelessness, beginning on page 45 of the Agenda Packet there is a section with the heading, “Aggressive solicitation and harassment.” Under that section it makes clear that this type of ordinance would punish those who solicit people for money. What is instructive about this section is that it is prohibiting people (those who solicit) from being within 15 feet of a public toilet entrance, an automated teller machine, any bus stop, taxi stand or rapid transit stop, the entrance or exit from a building, public or private, or within 20 feet of any parking lot, parking garage, parking meter or parking pay station, from any entrance or exit of commercially zoned property, or within 150 feet of any signalized intersection. Lastly, the ordinance that the GR Chamber of Commerce is proposing would prohibit those soliciting -which is code for the unhoused and those that are financially struggling – from, “At any lawfully permitted outdoor dining area, amphitheater seating area, playground or lawfully permitted outdoor merchandise area.” With these distance regulations, the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce is essentially saying that the poor, the unhoused, those who are struggling with mental health, etc., should just stay the hell out of the downtown area.

Just when you think that it couldn’t get any worse, on page 46, the ordinance that the GR Chamber wants to be adopted would come with penalties, meaning the poor, the unhoused and those with struggling with mental health issues would be punished. Here is what the “penalties are: 

  1. Upon conviction for a first offense for violating this section, the court shall impose a fine of not more than one hundred dollars ($100.00), or a sentence of probation, or both. 
  2. Upon conviction for a second or subsequent offense for violating this section, the court shall impose a fine of not more than five hundred dollars ($500.00), or imprisonment in jail for a period of not more than ninety (90) days, or a sentence of probation, or by a combination of fine, imprisonment, and a sentence of probation.

If this isn’t a clear path to criminalizing the unhoused, even though the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce  says it isn’t, then it is clear that we need to call what the GR Chamber is asking for, which is in fact the criminalization of people that are poor, unhoused and struggling with mental health. The GR Chamber of Commerce can claim they want services to be provided to people who fall under one or more of these descriptors, but we all know that the GR Chamber of Commerce and its members will not be stepping up to pay for these services. This new letter from the GR Chamber of Commerce demonstrates once again that their primary goal is to protect the interests of members of the Capitalist Class – making downtown safe for commerce and tourists, which always results in punishing those who threaten those interests. We need people to come together to actively resist such an ordinance and to confront the GR Chamber of Commerce for even proposing an ordinance which says it is ok to treat people this way. Who wants to join this fight? 

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