Efforts to Address Homelessness in Kalamazoo

On August 20, 2018 the Kalamazoo City Commission considered a proposal that would change City Ordinances related to park rules ( pdf summary of proposed changes (286 KB) ). This proposal caused several homeless residents to start a protest on the steps of City Hall, which eventually led to a larger on-going protest encampment in Bronson Park. While the protest began in response to the proposed ordinance changes, it evolved into a larger discussion about conditions and resources available for Kalamazoo's homeless residents. 

As a result of discussions with members of the protest encampment, service organizations in the Kalamazoo area formed a working group to better coordinate their services and explore how better options and more assistance could be offered. Information about this ongoing process, including historical information about the protest and links to documents, videos, and media coverage, can be found below. 

November 14, 2018: City and United Way staff hosted a meeting for people who are, or who have been homeless; however, there was a very small turn-out. In talking with the few people that attended, staff learned that attendance may have been affected by a weekly meal being offered at a local church at the same time and that daytime or weekend meetings are preferred. City and United Way staff coordinated a follow-up focus group meeting at Ministry with Community on December 21, but no one attended. Staff are currently following up with individuals that were invited to see what steps can be taken to improve participation and intend to schedule another round of focus group meetings to get feedback on potential ideas and solutions. Depending on the time it takes to ensure good levels of participation within the focus groups, staff hope to reconvene early in 2019 with all of the working group participants.

November 9, 2018: City and United Way staff convened a meeting with service providers to: 

  • Collectively debrief on all the workgroup conversations;
  • Assess feasibility of ideas/solutions and strategies for action; and
  • Discuss capacity to advance identified and agreed-upon action items.

24 people from over 15 organizations attended the meeting. The group reflected on the conversations had over the past few months, discussed themes, and started assessing feasibility and timing of actions.  Several partners shared uplifting comments about the ways in which they are thinking about their work differently, or starting to make changes in service delivery, based on the stories and experiences shared by those experiencing homelessness.  

October 25, 2018: A meeting was convened to expand the conversation to include people experiencing homelessness that had not been involved in previous conversations. The goal of the meeting was to allow people to share their concerns, ideas, challenges, and what’s working well in our community – covering questions that had been raised at prior meetings and working group conversations. There were 30 people in attendance – 23 community members experiencing homelessness and 7 others including providers, staff and commissioners. 

October 2018: Since September 5, working groups have met to work with individuals experiencing homelessness to better coordinate services and help that is available, as well as explore new ways to provide housing and assistance. Agendas, notes, and other documents from this process can be found  folder here .

September 19, 2018: Public Safety Officers enforced City Ordinances in Bronson Park related to camping at approximately 7 a.m. and made contact with individuals that continued to camp in the park. Officers provided protesters an opportunity to leave voluntarily before issuing citations and also provided plastic totes to help individuals move their belongings. Additional time was provided after issuing a citation for belongings to be packed and moved. Officers made arrests only as a last resort. As a result of this enforcement action 14 individuals were taken into custody: 10 for Breaking a Police Line (misdemeanor), 1 for Attempted Resisting and Obstruction (misdemeanor), and 3 on various outstanding warrants. Eight citations were issued for illegal camping.


Abandoned property was disposed of and Bronson Park was temporarily closed to allow City staff to clean the park, remove any remaining debris, and begin to repair sections of the lawn.  

September 18, 2018: Prior to enforcement, the United Way of Battle Creek and Kalamazoo pdf distributed flyers (268 KB) in Bronson Park and mobile intake and referral with Gryphon Place, Housing Resources Incorporated (HRI), Kalamazoo Community Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services (KCMHSAS) and Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) was set up. Events to offer help obtaining assistance with housing, health, food, and other critical needswere held September 19-21 at First Congregational Church and Ministry with Community. Encampment members were also reminded that help is always available by dialing 2-1-1.

September 17, 2018: At the September 17 City Commission Meeting held at Davis Street Park, City Manager Ritsema announces that members of the encampment should relocate from the park by 7 p.m. on Tuesday, September 18 or they will be subject to enforcement enforcement of City Ordinances.

Pastor Michael L. Brown and Board Chair Dave Bos of the Kalamazoo Gospel Mission release an pdf open letter to the community (2.30 MB)

September 14, 2018: The homeless working group convenes at Ministry with Community. Several members of the encampment are present. The group agrees to form four smaller groups each with a more specific focus. The four focus areas are:

    • Basic/Immediate Needs
    • Mental/Emotional Support
    • Housing (immediate and long-term) 
    • Physical Health 

September 10, 2018: An additional meeting is held between members of the encampment and City officials. Encampment representatives express dissatisfaction with the agreement and leave the meeting stating that the partners at the meeting are "trash." Representatives also state that the "contract is null and void." A new list of demands is presented which includes:

  1. An open, public discussion at a City Commission meeting regarding demands laid out by the #OccupyKalamazoo-sponsored "Bronson Park Freedom Encampment"
  2. An immediate and thorough investigation of the alleged abuses occurring on site at the Kalamazoo Gospel Mission
  3. Immediate access to mental/emotional and physical health supports for residents of the encampment.
  4. A structurally sound, vacant building (or a few vacant homes in close proximity to each other) that protesters can coordinate volunteer contractor services for, in order to get the property up to code in time to move in before winter
  5. The City of Kalamazoo to utilize the expertise of the group, and national best practices, to develop a long-term "housing first" policy that better addresses the issue of homelessness in the future

A City Commission Work Session is held to begin preliminary discussion of the City's FY2019 budget. Commissioner Cunningham motions to discuss the new list of demands had been presented and a public discussion of the list of demands follows. 

September 5, 2018: Most members had left 116 W Cedar and returned to Bronson Park, despite the August 31 agreement. The first meeting of the homlessness working group occurs at City Hall. Representatives of the encampment attend the meeting which also includes services providers and governmental representatives including the the City of Kalamazoo, Kalamazoo County, the United Way, LISC, the Kalamazoo Gospel Mission, Ministry with Community, Kalamazoo Community Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, members of the City Commission, and others. A pdf list of immediate needs (58 KB) was identified by members of the encampment and options for alternative locations were presented for their consideration. City staff offered to provide tents for shade and toilet facilities at these locations. The Kalamazoo Gospel Mission offered their services for individuals who would choose to camp at a location nearby, even for people who chose not to sleep at the Mission. City staff visited each of these locations with members of the encampment, who rejected these options.

August 31, 2018: Representatives from the encampment meet with City Manager Jim Ritsema and other city officials several times throughout the day to reach an agreement that allows temporary camping at 116 W Cedar Street. At approximately 7 p.m. encampment representatives Art Morlock, Carl Wiseman, Stuart Hamilton, City Manager Jim Ritsema, and City Commission Shannon Sykes conclude the final meeting of the day at which an agreement is signed stating:

    • The encampment will move out of Bronson Park the evening of Friday, August 31, 2018;
    • Camping will be permitted at 116 W Cedar Street through September 31, 2018;
    • The City will form a workgroup to explore short and long-term solutions to reduce homelessness and increase options for individuals seeking assistance;
    • The City will work with area partners to assist with short-term solutions for immediate issues facing homeless residents;

The City of Kalamazoo also agrees to provide port-a-jons, two of which are delivered that evening, and an additional accessible port-a-jon would be provided as soon as possible (Tuesday, September 4 following Labor Day). Upon accepting the agreement, City staff assist encampment members with moving their belongings to 116 W Cedar St, per the agreement. Vehicles, trailers, and labor are provided to assist. The first meeting of the task force established in the agreement is tentatively scheduled for Tuesday, September 4. 

The city also agreed to provide hotel rooms for two families that were living in Bronson Park through the weekend, although this was not part of the signed agreement. 

August 30, 2018: Resource event is held at Ministry with Community. City Manager Jim Ritsema meets with representative from the encampment to discuss other potential locations for a temporary camp. 

August 29, 2018: Outreach staff from Kalamazoo Community Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services visit Bronson Park and Martin Luther King Jr. Park to offer assistance to encampment members, invite them to the planned event at Ministry with Community, and notify them that Ministry with Community and Kalamazoo Gospel Mission have agreeed to allow banned individuals to return if they choose to. 

August 28, 2018: City staff work with community organizations to organize a resource event at Ministry with Community to be held on August 30, 2018. The purpose of the event is connect homeless individuals with assitance related to housing and other economic and healthcare services.

August 27, 2018: City staff contact Ministry with Community and Kalamazoo Gospel Mission to reach agreement to allow banned individuals to return. Representatives from the homeless encampment deliver a list of demands to City Hall. Per the City Commission rules, this list was included in the City Clerk's Report at the September 4, 2018 City Commission meeting

August 20, 2018: Kalamazoo City Commission meets and following lengthy public comments on the proposed ordinances changes, a motion to adopt the proposal fails. 

August 19, 2018: Protest begins outside on the steps of City Hall as a result of proposed ordinances changes to the Code of Ordinances. The propsed changes would have reduced 16 park offenses from misdemeanors to civil infractions, changed the hours during which sleeping in parks is prohibited, and added clearer definitions for certain offenses ( pdf summary of proposed changes (286 KB) ). 


City of Kalamazoo

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