In light of ArtPrize: responding to the city’s needs

Photo+by+Jamin+Short

Photo by Jamin Short

With the beginning of the eighth year of ArtPrize, a harsh light is shed on the many issues surrounding homelessness in Grand Rapids.

Each year, ArtPrize attracts thousands of visitors to the downtown region. In preparation, the city has worked to make accommodations for this event. However, not everyone is thankful for another year of ArtPrize.

In a conversation with local artist Aaron Van Wyk, he expressed concerns for those experiencing homelessness in Grand Rapids. As he saw it, youth particularly feel pushed out during this time. “Grand Rapids is a city for art … but not for the poor,” stated Van Wyk.

Local agencies estimate that 200 youth in Grand Rapids experience homelessness on any given night. While work is being done to care for these populations, local services continue to have limited resources. Options for free or cheap meals are scarce downtown. The few local shelters are all at maximum capacity, seeing numbers usually not seen until winter months. On top of this, Grand Rapids faces an extreme housing crisis, as it held the lowest vacancy rental rates in the nation just last year. The reality is that there are not enough places for individuals or families to go.

Ben Kaiser, a local street outreach specialist, addressed an added concern for homeless youth having increased interactions with the police during ArtPrize. City ordinances obligate the Grand Rapids Police Department (GRPD) to enforce trespassing laws on private property. The populations mostly affected by these ordinances are the homeless. These enforcements are usually infrequent, but according to Kaiser, “Police enforcing trespassing on property downtown generally increases during ArtPrize.”

The GRPD is supposed to direct any of the homeless they have contact with towards local shelters, but there is little communication between them and local services. According to Kaiser, youth turned away from private property may also be turned away from a shelter. These “gaps,” as Kaiser stated, “are the natural outcomes of not considering the disadvantaged citizens of our city.”

Van Wyk and Kaiser are a few of many who are calling for a response to these needs. Kaiser encouraged county residents to look for ways of addressing these issues now and speaking on behalf of the city’s most vulnerable. Efforts could look like reaching out to ArtPrize officials, the GRPD or city representatives and asking how the city plans to address these needs.  

For further information, see the Grand Rapids Area Coalition to End Homelessness website.