UPDATE: The Kalamazoo Gazette says 14 people were arrested as Kalamazoo Public Safety officers swept the park on Wednesday morning, September 19. Those arrested include Kalamazoo City Commissioner Shannon Sykes Nehring. A 7 p.m. deadline the previous evening passed without police action to remove the camp. It was set up August 19 to protest what camp residents and advocates say is a lack of action by the city on homelessness.
Public Safety officials also ordered homeless people camping at a vacant city fire station on Cedar Street to leave Wednesday morning. The city asked people in the Bronson Park camp to move there, and some did, initially. But most moved back to Bronson Park after only a few days, saying the Cedar Street location wasn't suitable because it had too much concrete and not enough shade. WMUK's Zoë Jackson asked Deputy Kalamazoo City Manager Jeff Chamberlain about the status of the alternate campsite: "They told us they considered that agreement void, and so did we, so when we asked people to leave Bronson Park, we also asked them to leave that fire station.”
Chamberlain says the city is still meeting with affordable housing organizations in Kalamazoo to work on longer-term solutions. “The issues of affordable housing and homelessness are really bigger than Kalamazoo. We still want to have homeless representatives at the table to work with us on what can be some actual solutions that not just the city of Kalamazoo, but other partners can help us with.”
Kalamazoo city officials say they will clear a homeless camp out of Bronson Park. City Manager Jim Ritsema says the camp must close by 7 p.m. Tuesday.
The decision comes after weeks of talks between the officials and campers, who say Kalamazoo must do more to address homelessness.
At a commission meeting Monday at Davis Street Park, Ritsema also said the city would not be able to meet the campers’ demand for an vacant building to fix up for the winter.
“We don’t have any vacant buildings that are fit for this type of use. Most of our properties are contaminated, and so we don’t feel like as a city we can provide a facility to this group,” he said.
Ritsema says the state is poised to give Kalamazoo some extra money to put toward housing while the city works to connect people with mental health and other services. He also says a working group of camp members and city officials will continue to look for other solutions.
But some Bronson Park campers and their supporters expressed anger with the decision to clear the camp.
“Guess what you just did tonight. You stabbed us in the back,” Michael Rizor said to Ritsema on Monday.
Commissioner Shannon Sykes Nehring, who joined the campers in protest after a commission meeting two weeks ago, also criticized the decision.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen in the next 24 hours, but I will tell you this. We have just made the decision to displace between 150 to 200 people, including small children, including infants, including pregnant women, including disabled people who can’t get around on their own,” she said.