During ArtPrize, many of us spend a lot more time in Grand Rapids' downtown area. While you're downtown, you may be approached by panhandlers. And you may experience the conflicting feelings of wanting to help, but worrying about what your dollars might be used for.
Dégagé Ministries, a Heartside neighborhood organization for the homeless, offers a compassionate solution to this dilemma. Consider purchasing $2 vouchers from Dégagé and keeping them in your wallet. To encourage dignity and responsibility, Dégagé charges a small fee for many of its meals and services—and a $2 voucher could purchase a full meal, pay for storage in a locker for a week, fund a haircut, buy a pair of warm socks, and much more. The staff in the Dégagé resource office also works with individuals to find solutions to other needs they may have.
"We all want to be helpful. We just want to make sure that our money isn't being used for something illegal or destructive," said Marge Palmerlee, executive director of Dégagé Ministries. "We feel the voucher system is a helpful way to meet the needs of those we serve, while encouraging appropriate and responsible behavior. It's a very dignified way to help someone in a nonjudgemental way."
Dégagé Ministries has provided several hundred of its Dégagé Vouchers to Downtown Grand Rapids, Inc. Ambassadors, so they can hand them out to guests for their own distribution. The federal courts have deemed panhandling a First Amendment right, yet many municipatlities throughout the nation have enacted local ordinances against it. Grand Rapids allows panhandling, with restrictions against blocking areas of public foot traffic, behaving in an accosting manner, and other parameters to protect the public. Palmerlee explained that Dégagé began the voucher system in response to the increase in panhandling the city has experienced in recent years.
Contact [email protected] or call 616.454.1661 to purchase the vouchers. You may also learn more about them on this page. When donating, select Purchase of $2 Vouchers from the designation drop-down list, and your vouchers will be mailed to you.