Baseball cards and the homeless man who left them behind

Kent County

WYOMING, Mich. (WOOD) — Among the few belongings of value John had kept at the homeless camp hidden along US-131 were his baseball cards.

The 60-year-old man had hundreds of them, some spread out to dry on an old rug under the trees. There’s Dave Bergman, John Smoltz, Carlton Fisk.

But on Friday, John left behind his cards as the state forced him to leave the camp on the east side of US-131, north of 54th Street SW.

A crew then spent hours cleaning up the mess.

“They told us we’ve got to leave,” John told News 8, crying. “I’ve lived down here for three years. This is all I have.”

John, 60, smokes a cigarette before being required to leave a homeless encampment in Wyoming. (July 16, 2021)

Even while homeless, John continued to add to the baseball card collection that he started when he was a boy.

“I had enough baseball cards to go from here to the Shell gas station down there on 54th,” he said.

Earlier this year, he said, 40 people lived in the camp along Buck Creek, many after the city of Grand Rapids forced them from Heartside Park late last year. Most left after a flood swept through in June.

“The flood that came took everything from everybody,” he said.

A sign left behind at the scene of a homeless encampment in Wyoming on July 16, 2021.

He points to what he calls the “dome,” a makeshift shelter made with tarps spread out over bowing branches and a few pieces of lumber as support beams.

“This was a dome,” he said. “People lived, fire pits, families, couches, chairs.

“They’re all gone, yup, they’re all gone,” he said.

The remnants of a homeless camp in Wyoming that was cleared July 16, 2021. Wooden structures previously supported a sort of tent.

And his cards, soaked, ruined.

Now he and his few remaining neighbors are gone, too.

He said he knows why. He points to the garbage left behind, he said, by his former neighbors.

“It’s not my property. I understand this.”

The Michigan Department of Transportation said camps like these are popping up along highways all over the state.

“A lot of these locations, you don’t even realize that they’re there,” MDOT spokesman JR Richard said. “You’ll walk by them or drive by them. There’s so many locations where there are hundreds of people living and you have no idea that they’re back there.

“It’s definitely a growing problem, and we leave them alone until it becomes a public health issue.”

That’s what happened, he said, at the 54th Street camp.

“When they don’t clean up and there’s human waste, syringes, it becomes a biohazard,” Richard said. “It’s very dangerous for the public.”

So on Friday, a five-man crew with shovels and rakes, a Bobcat loader and two dumpsters spent hours cleaning it up.

And John, who said he works odd jobs when he can, packed up the last of his things.

“Everything I own, that I can’t carry, I have to give up. I’m 60 years old,” he said, crying. “I don’t have no place to go.”

When asked why not a shelter, he said: “No, because they take everything from you.”

A Wyoming police officer stands by as a homeless camp in the area of US-131 and 54th Street is cleared on July 16, 2021.

A Wyoming police officer drove him to the bus station.

And a member of the clean-up crew used a shovel to scoop up John’s baseball cards with the rest of the garbage.

Baseball cards left behind as crews cleared a homeless encampment in Wyoming on July 16, 2021.

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