This morning, the Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety initiated enforcement action in Bronson Park to remove a group of individuals that had been camping in violation of city ordinances. This enforcement action was taken as a last resort after multiple offers to relocate the encampment to safe locations with on-site amenities were declined by protesters.
Under City of Kalamazoo ordinances, camping in any park is prohibited without the written permission of the City. Fires in a grill or otherwise, are also prohibited in Bronson Park. Persons violating city park rules may be required to leave the park for the balance of the day, and persons refusing to leave are subject to arrest for trespassing. No city parks have the amenities to allow camping, which has been prohibited since 2002.
Following a month-long process of outreach and negotiation outlined below, the Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety, with support from the Kalamazoo County Sheriff’s Office and the Michigan State Police, made contact with protesters that were camping beginning at approximately 6:45 a.m. Wednesday morning. Only about 20 tents remained that morning and most individuals peacefully left the park at the request of Public Safety. 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 has been temporarily closed to allow City staff to clean the park, remove any remaining debris, and begin to repair sections of the lawn. It is anticipated that the park will be reopened Thursday.
Members of the encampment have been advised call 211 for housing assistance or to relocate to the Kalamazoo Gospel Mission, or to camp on land located just north of the Mission on Edwards Street. These locations make it easy to utilize the services of the Mission and Ministry with Community including water, showers, shelter, food, and laundry.
Actions Taken to Assist those in Bronson Park
Prior to enforcement, the United Way of Battle Creek and Kalamazoo distributed flyers in Bronson Park offering several opportunities to meet with Gryphon Place for help obtaining assistance with housing, health, food, and other critical needs. These events will take place 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.
Since the encampment began on August 19, City staff and community organizations have made numerous attempts to work with protesters to offer help. These efforts included arranging outreach to homeless individuals camping in the park to connect them with help, the offer of other locations to permit temporary camping, and working with the Kalamazoo Gospel Mission and Ministry with Community to allow individuals that had been banned to return.
City Manager Jim Ritsema initially met with protesters on August 29. This led to an agreement on August 31 which moved the encampment to the former fire station at 116 W Cedar Street and created a working group to offer short-term help for the people of the encampment and work towards better long-term policies to alleviate the problem of homelessness. The protest group determined 116 W Cedar Street was not suitable and returned to Bronson Park on September 4, where they have remained since.
The first meeting of the working group to address homelessness convened on September 5 and has met regularly since, most recently on September 14. This group has included members of the homeless encampment, city officials, and representatives from numerous community organizations including the Kalamazoo Gospel Mission, Ministry with Community, Open Door/Next Door Shelters, Kalamazoo County Community Mental Health & Substance Abuse Services, Housing Resources Inc., Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC), United Way of Battle Creek & Kalamazoo, ISAAC, 211/Gryphon Place, the Kalamazoo Community Foundation, and Kalamazoo County.
At the September 5 meeting a list of immediate needs 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.
Kalamazoo County Community Mental Health & Substance Abuse Services and Housing Resources, Inc. have also conducted outreach in Bronson Park specifically directed towards individuals in the encampment who could benefit from their services. The City and service agencies worked with individuals in the encampment to find shelter for families with children, and LISC has provided funds for hotel rooms for members of the encampment with children.
The most recent estimate of total beds in all shelters combined is approximately 604. The Kalamazoo Gospel Mission has stated this week they have 118 spaces currently available. The most recent federally mandated “Point In Time” count of homeless which occurred in January, 2018 found 567 homeless individuals in Kalamazoo County.
The City of Kalamazoo is working closely with community partners to improve the help that is offered to all residents in need, homeless or otherwise. The work group that has been formed around this issue will continue to meet and the representatives from the encampment are encouraged to be part of the solutions.