The City of Kalamazoo will form a workgroup to explore long-term solutions to reduce homelessness and increase options available to assist homeless residents in securing housing and other social services. The workgroup will consist of representatives from existing service providers, city staff, and homeless residents, and focus on coordinating existing services, identifying how different organizations can work together to better serve our community, and exploring new ideas that can create additional housing opportunities. The first meeting of this group is tentatively scheduled for the week of Tuesday, September 4.
This partnership is the result of discussions that have occurred during a protest encampment located in Bronson Park. Public Safety Officers, City employees, and homeless residents met on several occasions to discuss how the situation could be resolved and the groups involved could work together to reach a sustainable, long-term solution. City employees also coordinated with Ministry with Community, the Kalamazoo Gospel Mission to allow previously banned individuals to return, and arranged for social service outreach to occur during the protest.
The protest was sparked by proposed changed to city park rules, but evolved into a larger discussion about conditions for homeless residents.
“Kalamazoo is a generous and compassionate community, with many people willing to donate time and money to help people in need,” said City Manager Jim Ritsema. “It is important that we listen to the voices of those that we are trying to help. If they are telling us that the help we are offering is not working, we need to listen and work together to figure out what must change.”
To provide a short-term solution, the City of Kalamazoo will consider the former fire station at 116 Cedar Street as a limited public forum for 30 days, permitting individuals to camp at this location. This will provide an immediate option for homeless residents and time for the workgroup to explore alternatives. Individuals that choose continue camping at other locations in violation of city ordinances will be subject to enforcement action.
“I’ve been fighting for homeless rights since I was 17 years old, and this is the first time I’ve seen something that’s working together as a unit,” said Arthur Morlock, a homeless resident and member of the group. “Not as one person being bigger or better or big brother just pushing it under the rug.”
“We addressed the problem to the City of Kalamazoo, and the city is willing to work with us to set a precedent nationwide, starting right here in Kalamazoo,” said Stuart Hamilton, another member of the group. “Just because you’re homeless doesn’t mean that you aren’t human. You have rights and you can stand up for them.”
“I am optimistic that this partnership will lead to the postive changes that we need to help homeless residents get back on their feet,” noted City Manager Ritsema. “Although protests and demonstrations can be uncomfortable, I am glad that these events have ultimately brought us together around an important issue in our community.”