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Activists say Kalamazoo treats its homeless like "dirt"

Leona Larson

Kalamazoo City commissioners heard three hours of complaints at their meeting on Monday, October 18, about the city's decision to evict homeless people from two campsites.

Activists say the city should drop charges against arrested protesters. They also accused Public Safety officers of misconduct, saying the homeless now have no options. One caller said, "The city has always treated its poor and unhoused residents like trash to be discarded," while another added, "Like nothing more than dirt."

But city officials defended the evictions. Some of those who were arrested during the evictions criminal face charges for allegedly assaulting officers. City Commissioner Eric Cunningham says police "body-cam" videos may be open to interpretation. But he didn't see any problems.

"They went in, and they tried to provide a service the best that they could. The way it looked it was very firm, fair, and consistent. I didn't see anything egregious from our Public Safety."

Kalamazoo City Manager Jim Ritsema says the evictions were necessary because the weather is getting colder, and because the encampments had become dangerous.

"Conditions presented significant risks to the health and safety of those living at the encampment, those who visit the site to provide support and services as well as those living and working nearby."

Ritsema says twelve agencies are helping those displaced from the camps find alternative housing. He says specific complaints about the conduct of officers will be investigated.

A new approach to Graphic Packaging?

Kalamazoo will extend a controversial tax break for Graphic Packaging, but only for one year. That will give city staff time to work on a new deal tying the abatement to action on foul odors coming from the company's paper plant. It's called a "Community Benefits Agreement."

City Attorney Clyde Robinson says, "We can talk about the odor issues as part of that abatement condition. And there may be some other things, too, that we can negotiate and discuss with Graphic Packaging representatives."

Robinson says there have only been a few "Community Benefits" agreements around the country - all in much larger cities: "Los Angeles, New York City, Atlanta, and the City of Detroit. Oh, and there's one more: the State of New Jersey."

Kalamazoo City commissioners will get a report on the idea early next year.