q&a: Is it legal for a person to beg on freeway ramps in Michigan?
Behind the Blue Line — Michigan State Police Trooper Duane Zook takes your law enforcement questions
Question: Is begging legal on freeway ramps?
Answer: Webster’s Third International Dictionary states “begging” is to entreat earnestly, implore, or supplicate. It often occurs for the purpose of securing a material benefit, generally a gift, donation or charitable donation. When done in the context of a public place, it is known as “panhandling.”
Under Michigan Law, “begging” is illegal and falls under the “disorderly person” law (MCL 750.167) when a person is found begging in a public place. This includes freeway ramps.
This article is not meant to stereotype the homeless population. It is for information, based on my law enforcement experiences.
On Dec. 28, 2007, I was called to the Ann Arbor-Saline park-and-ride lot to investigate the death of a suspected homeless man who had been exposed to the cold of winter for some time. I say “suspected homeless” because during the course of my investigation, I learned the man had a home, a place to stay. The man also had a job working at a local mechanic shop in Ann Arbor.
Time and time again prior to this man’s death, I would see him “working the ramp” at Ann Arbor-Saline Road. I would wave to him, pass him by and leave him be, thinking he was legitimately homeless. I chose not to take any enforcement action or shoo him away from the ramp. Only after investigating this man’s death, I realized I was naÃ¯ve.
From that day forward, I made it a point to make contact with every panhandler working freeway ramps. Since 2008, I have learned the stories of 18 panhandlers working the ramps. All but one, I found, has a substance abuse addiction, mainly heroin. And only two are legitimately homeless. One man in particular has full medical insurance, receives Social Security benefits and has a Michigan Bridge card, yet he’s working the ramp because the majority of his money is going to heroin use.
So how much money do they make by working the ramps? Over the past two years, I have learned of the subculture involved in working the ramp. There are high-dollar and low-dollar ramps, along with seniority. On a high-dollar ramp on a good day, some of the people working the ramp make $120 to $200. Those working the low-end ramps may only receive $20 to $40. Ramps where the bus lines run, from Rawsonville Road in Ypsilanti Township to Jackson Road in Ann Arbor, are typically worked.
I have arrested several people working the ramps, not just for being on the ramp, but for having outstanding warrants for their arrest. Each person whom I have had contact with has been offered some type of literature for substance abuse treatment, family counseling, or mental health services. To this date, only one out of the 18 has made the choice to help herself out and go to a treatment program.
For information on how to obtain help for substance abuse, contact Washtenaw County Health Services Access at (800) 440-7548.
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