Callers criticize Kalamazoo for clearing homeless camps

Kalamazoo County

KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — Objections to authorities clearing homeless encampments in Kalamazoo dominated more than two and a half hours of public comment during the city commission Monday.

Kalamazoo police have cleared two homeless encampments in recent weeks, one on Ampersee Avenue near Hotop Avenue and the other along Stadium Drive. Two days after the Ampersee camp was cleared, seven protesters and four officers injured as the two groups clashed at the site.

People who called into the commission meeting claimed officers mistreated those who were arrested or said that the camps should not have been cleared because the Kalamazoo Gospel Mission is already at capacity.

“I don’t know who you guys serve, but it’s not the people. We got all that money, all this billionaire money, and where did it go?” one caller wondered.

“It would be preferable for the city to be a model for how to deal with houselessness rather than a national embarrassment, which is what has really happened the last couple weeks,” another said.

Some called on the city to reconsider its collective bargaining agreement with the police union or for City Manager Jim Ritsema to resign over the issue. They also called on the city to drop charges filed in connection to the sweeps.

Authorities said they cleared the Ampersee site over concerns about health, safety and an uptick in crime.

“The conditions at the Ampersee encampment were growing increasingly more unsafe. The encampment was located in a Brownfield site which by definition is unsafe and unhealthy for humans habitation due to hazardous substances in the ground,” the city said in a statement regarding the clearing of the camp.

“The encampment grew significantly in recent months with many inhabitants coming from outside Kalamazoo,” the statement continued. “The increasing dangers at the encampment were not in alignment with the guidelines for safe camping.”

The city added it gave Kalamazoo County Continuum of Care extra time ahead of the closure of the camp to give it time to reach out to the people living at the camp and offer them services. Because of that, the number of people living at the camp was cut in half before it was cleared.

The city said it is still looking at more housing options.

The commission was not expected to discuss or take any action on the clearing of the homeless encampments.

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