Police clear homeless camp in Kalamazoo

Kalamazoo County

KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — Police cleared out a homeless camp in Kalamazoo Wednesday.

Officers with the Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety cleared people out of the homeless encampment at Ampersee near Hotop Avenue in the city’s Eastside area.

The move comes a week after city officials decided to hold off on clearing the camp as they figured out how to move forward. Last month, the city said it would clear the camp because of concerns about health, safety and an uptick in crime.

People living there told a News 8 crew on scene they were given five minutes to grab their belongings and leave.

“(They came at) this time in the morning. ‘You have five minutes. You have five minutes to grab everything you own and be gone, or you’re going to jail,’” one man recalled of what officials said.

So far, no arrests have been made related to the camp closing, the city of Kalamazoo said in a release. The city did say why the closure was unexpectedly given the OK Wednesday, how long cleanup would take or what is next for the site.

Gary Baughman was one of those who was forced out. After the situation took a sudden turn, he said he’s frustrated and worried people won’t have a place to sleep.

“You don’t want them in your backyard. Fine, I understand that. Nobody wants us anywhere,” Baughman said. “But they’ve got to be somewhere. They’re people. They’re all people who need somewhere to lie down.” 

Nonprofit groups were there to help people retrieve their belongings. One group parked nearby to give out lunches and water.

“If we try to stand up to them, this is what they do. They police us,” one activist said of city officials. “They try to silence us.”

People living there still had to leave a lot of stuff including clothes, toys, bikes and cooking utensils.

After it was cleared out, the camp was covered in trash. A bulldozer was brought in to haul away debris.

“On Sept. 15 signage was posted at the site indicating the City’s intent to close the camp on Sept. 29. However, the City paused closure efforts to allow the Continuum of Care (CoC) and service providers to conduct a final, comprehensive, and coordinated outreach effort,” the city said in the release.

It said during an outreach event on Monday, more than 10 people chose to shelter at either the Kalamazoo Gospel Mission or Oakland House and two families were provided with transportation, so that they could be reunited with family outside of the area. Fifty people received cellphones.

The CoC estimated there were more than 100 people at the camp when the city announced the closure. Around 50 people remained after the Monday event.

The camp sits on soil contaminated with heavy metals. Owned by the city’s Brownfield Redevelopment Authority, it’s the site of a former fly ash dump site for a coal-fired power plant. Signs put up by the authority warn those living at the encampment not to touch the soil or grow edible plants in it.

KDPS Chief Vernon Coakley said the decision to clear the camp was “painful.”

“This, by our leadership, had to be done at this time on this date,” Coakley said. “We’ve had the opportunity to get those who are houseless and homeless at this site to a location or locations. We’ve also had the opportunity to give others transportation to loved ones in other parts of the country.”

News 8’s David Horak contributed to this report.

Editors note: A previous version stated the camp was cleared earlier this year due to flooding. That is incorrect. It was a different homeless camp that was cleared. We regret the error.

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