On the morning of April 5, construction workers and police officers in Kalamazoo gathered to clear out a homeless camp near downtown, known to be on railroad property. This was on the grounds of receiving complaints from the community about the unfortunate situation of garbage piling up on the property. Kalamazoo County Health and Community Services Department officials are concerned about unsanitary living conditions at the site, but there are limited resources for homeless people in Kalamazoo.
According to MLive, trash in the area had been growing. This was a reason why the Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety officers and crews from the city of Kalamazoo worked throughout the morning to haul it all away and evict those who had been residing there. Members of the community reported that homeless people began gathering on the corner in January. The camp grew after warming centers, which opened during extreme cold in January, closed and the weather in Kalamazoo became bearable.
However, keeping in mind that help is limited for homeless people in Kalamazoo, police tried to connect the homeless with resources to help them find housing over the last couple of weeks. Members of the encampment were given final notice to leave about 24 hours before crews arrived to clean the area. The property is owned by railroad Norfolk Southern Corporation, according to city property records. The Gospel Mission, along with Kalamazoo Community Mental Health, assisted the evicted as they relocated to other areas.
This is similar to the situation that took place in September 2018 in Bronson Park. Homelessness is not a new issue to Kalamazoo. Bronson Park, a central feature of Kalamazoo’s downtown, was home to close to 200 people during a month-long encampment on the property, with similar consequences. They deemed it as being unsanitary and unsafe. Some homeless people reported that most of the things cleared out did not belong to them. They claim it was being used as an illegal trash dumping site by others not part of the encampment. But police said they were unaware of any of this.
There’s a lot of reasons why you should think twice about calling the police on a homeless person. Imagine this scenario: you see a man outside, his sleeping bag up against the wall of your building, talking loudly to himself. This is a pretty ordinary situation all over the city, so some people may hardly notice him. But others may feel scared and wonder, is he on drugs? Is he mentally stable? Does he need help? Calling the police has devastating consequences for someone like this. Although you may think you are helping someone, it results in arrests and citations mostly.
911 is for emergencies, not uncomfortable situations. The effect of getting ticketed can weigh heavy on those without a roof over their heads. If individuals don’t pay, often because they can’t afford to do so, they can be subject to a bench warrant, which is issued by a judge when someone fails to show up in court. That then makes them ineligible for a shelter bed, even if they’ve been on a shelter waitlist for a long time. This creates a vicious cycle that is then disrupting the very little livelihood and support they have. Many experience loss in property. Helping homeless people requires deep involvement, not just dialing a three-digit phone number.