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Kalamazoo Declares Gun Violence A Health Crisis

Andy Robins

Kalamazoo City commissioners have declared gun violence a "public health emergency."

Rates of violent crime have soared nationwide during the pandemic. The city plans to use a million dollars in federal COVID relief money to address the issue with other local governments. Deputy City Manager Laura Lam says it’s not just a city problem and needs a communitywide solution. She says talks with the county have already begun.

"It's a really unprecedented level of partnership that we're seeing coming together between our city as well as county commission officials, acknowledging how detrimental community violence has been and how much we need to put it front and center and focus our collective energies on how to eradicate it."

Mayor David Anderson says issue is complicated and needs a concerted community-wide approach.

"We need to publicly demonstrate how we're going to work together in a very high-profile way."

Vice-Mayor Patrese Griffin adds that says Kalamazoo doesn't have a monopoly on gun violence.

"Violence of any source is not a City of Kalamazoo issue. It's a community issue. And it's going to take all of us to put our hands on deck and support those who have already been doing the work."

The city will use a million dollars in federal COVID relief funding to work with the county and other local governments on the issue. Another $1.1 million will be used to help small businesses and residents hurt by the pandemic.

Homeless Camp Clearing Moves Ahead

Plans by Kalamazoo officials to close a homeless encampment are raising concerns by some residents. They've asked city commissioners to intervene. The city has announced plans to move about 200 homeless people out of the camp on Ampersee. Deputy City Manager Laura Lam says conditions there are unsafe and growing worse.

"What we're seeing is quite a bit of spikes in aggravated assaults. We're seeing an increase in drug issues. We're seeing tents being set on fire."

Lam says the Kalamazoo Gospel Mission will open 200 new beds next month. And she says several other agencies are working with people at the camp.

"For those who are not able to seek services at a shelter, what I understand from Housing Resources, Incorporated, is that we are looking to see if we are able to utilize any other resources for alternative placements."

Graphic Packaging Tax Break Delayed Again

Kalamazoo City commissioners have again delayed a new decision on a controversial tax break for Graphic Packaging. Commissioners tried to make the deal depend on elimination of chemical odors coming from the plant, but the state rejected the idea. A compromise was on the agenda September 20. But residents who live near the paper plant say the city should wait until the state releases a report on health issues near the plant in two weeks.

One resident said, "We can't really have faith in this global corporation who has let this issue continue for so long." Another added, "I think Graphic Packaging is the reason I lost my daughter," and a third told commissioners, "If they can't afford to run their business without tax abatements, maybe they shouldn't expand."

But Mayor David Anderson says there's a lot at stake for the city and the company. He says for every dollar the company saves it will pay another to the city for the first time.

"The dollar amount, for example if you talk about five years, is about $850,000."

Commissioners postponed a vote on the abatement until mid-October. That's after the state Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy releases its report on health concerns around the Graphic Packaging plant. It will be released during a virtual meeting October 5th.

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