Western Michigan University students, alumni and Kalamazoo residents came together on Wednesday, Sept. 29 to protest the eviction of the Ampersee encampment.
On Sept. 15, the City of Kalamazoo announced it would be closing the Ampersee Homeless Encampment due to concerns from local residents and businesses about rising violence rates in the area.
“While we recognize the complex systemic and personal factors that result in encampments, the current situation at the Ampersee encampment presents significant risk to the health, safety and well-being of those living at the encampment, those providing onsite services and supports, and those living and working nearby,” said Sara Jacobs, the Director of the Kalamazoo County Continuum of Care.
In response to this, protestors gathered on the day of eviction to protest this decision. Signs reading “Where will they go?” and “City of KZoo should be ashamed!!” were held by protestors from all over the Kalamazoo area.
Lissy Dunning was one protestor who herself was experiencing homelessness. Dunning, age 60, is currently living out of her car and looking for work. Despite not living in the Ampersee Homeless encampment where the protests took place, Dunning still found it necessary to protest on behalf of the homeless population at the Ampersee encampment.
“It’s not just about me, it’s about these other people that are homeless too and don’t have any place to go,” Dunning said.
Another protestor, Makayla Davis, is a WMU Student and member of Students in Action. She had been at the protest along with fellow members of Students in Action throughout the day.
“I’m just ready to let these people know that what they’re doing is unfair,” Davis said. “If they had affordable housing in Kalamazoo we wouldn’t have half these people out here.”
For Davis, WMU was a place that allowed her to understand how well she had it in comparison to the less fortunate. Western also showed her that there were so many other things she could be involved in off-campus, even if it didn’t affect Western.
“Being a part of Western, you are a part of Kalamazoo and these people are our families, these are our neighbors, and these are our brothers and sisters,” Davis said.
Alumni of WMU also attended the protest.
Alumni, Mathew Davis, like most of the protestors, came to stand with the protestors who were being evicted from the homeless encampment.
“I think it’s kind of a misnomer to call this a homeless encampment cause there are a lot of people who have built homes … literally building houses with their bare hands out of scrap wood,” Davis said.
After taking some years off, Davis came back to WMU to finish his degree and graduate. After coming back he said he was able to see how privileged he was to be able to live and study inexpensive buildings on Western’s campus without fear of eviction.
“It really gave me some perspective on how things like that really make a difference in your life when you just have a place where you can feel like ‘Hey I can sit here and do homework for two hours and not have to worry about the police showing up,’” Davis said.
Scott Campbell was one resident of the encampment who lived just outside the gate to the main section of the encampment. Campbell, who is in his fifties, has two sons, one of which was living at the encampment and another who was in college. Campbell was able to shed some light on what life was like living in the encampment. He talked about the drugs and violence in the encampment, but he also said there were people who didn’t take part in those activities.
“I see a lot of good and I see a lot of bad in here …, it’s nice to be around people and visit but you gotta watch your ass in there,” Campbell said.
Campbell also touched on one of the major issues facing the residents of the homeless encampment, that being the issue of mental illness.
“Everyones got a little something, but when you see the problems we’ve been having lately, it could be stopped,” Campbell said.
Improved funding to mental health secures, affordable housing, and even setting up paid guards to keep violent residents out of the encampment were all possible solutions brought up by protestors and residents of the homeless encampment.
“Our city has fundamentally failed the poor and impoverished of our town, we don’t have enough social services and the money of the city is going to worthless projects,” said Gibson Rowe, one of the protestors at the event.
The city had stated that the homeless residents of the encampment had until 5 pm to move out of the encampment.
However, as the deadline approached, the city of Kalamazoo announced it would extend the deadline for residents, allowing them more time to find alternative shelter according to Mlive.
This decision was announced an hour before the 5 pm deadline and many residents had already left the encampment.