In a letter to the Grand Rapids City Commission, a downtown law firm says aggressive homeless people are making life in the big city a little less fun.

Is There Too Much Public Sex Downtown?

The letter was drafted by the CEO of the Smith, Hawley, Rice, and Roegge law firm, whose offices are in the Flatiron Building downtown, and their observations have been echoed by many others who own businesses along Monroe Center.

In the missive to the Commission, Matthew Wikander highlighted several issues his employees have been dealing with in the Monroe Center corridor, namely, aggressive panhandling, female employees being solicited for sex, and people having open sex in what are public areas.

The specific paragraph highlighting these concerns in Wikander's letter states:

Multiple Smith Hawley employees have solicited for sex or sex acts as they enter or leave our building (personnel have also witnessed people having sex near the building entrance). This is such a problem that some of our personnel do not feel safe and avoid leaving the office during the day, or, if they do, avoid Monroe Center. In some instances, victims of this behavior hide in nearby retail establishments until the perpetrator leaves. (Please note that there has been a recent increase in solicitations Ionia/Pearl garage, where our personnel park, and a camera system in this garage would increase safety and reduce the risk of a serious incident.

Others Agree That Recently, Bad Behaviors In Downtown Grand Rapids Have Increased

Cinco de Mayo's assistant manager Rubi Romero told FOX 17 News that public behavior in Monroe Center is getting rough on business.

"We've had people that will close at 9:30 in the morning. Our crew will get here and we'll have people naked on our tables, or we have underwear on our tables," said Romero. "Like, people eat here."

Romero says that she has reported the issues to the police. “The police aren’t doing anything about it,” she said. “We really can’t do anything about it. We get threatened for it.”

ar via Unsplash
ar via Unsplash

Root Of The Problem May Be Lack Of Affordable Housing

Another anonymous downtown business owner showed some empathy for the homeless, and frustration with law enforcement in the Monroe Center business district, posting to a discussion on the Grand Rapids subreddit:

People act out of character when they aren’t given their basic needs. Cops aren’t going to do anything about it. They haven’t historically & they’re not going to magically start. The cop who came 45 minutes after I called blamed it on little funding. I’m sorry my guy but you’re here now and still not doing anything. Sounds like not wanting to do your job. Not a lack of funding. Y’all got plenty.

I’m not saying it is okay for people to be having sex in the street, or harassing employees. There are a few things we need to consider though.

  1. people on the streets are often desperate.

  2. a few street wanderers and homeless folks do not represent all of them.

  3. the majority of elder homeless people I talk to don’t know that low-income house even exists.

  4. many homeless folks, yes I talk to tens of them every day, are wonderful well-meaning people.

Jon Tyson via Unsplash
Jon Tyson via Unsplash

What Is The Answer For Homelessness In Downtown GR?

As someone who not only works downtown, but returns to work out and attend Swing Dance events at Rosa Parks Circle, I can tell you, I rarely have had problems with the homeless, or hangers-on in the Monroe Center area. But then again I am 6-2, 220 pounds, and pretty much look like I could be an authority figure, so I rarely am targeted for solicitations or aggression. That being said, I understand how the large groups who gather in the late evening might intimidate people.

Like the last commenter, I realize there is no simple solution for the homeless issue downtown. In the Heartside neighborhood alone, there are three well-known outlets for the homeless seeking help: DeGage, Mel Trotter, and Guiding Light Mission. But taking a helping hand is one thing, making life decisions to begin improving yourself is another.

You can read Wikander's entire letter to the City Commission here.

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