KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — As the city of Grand Rapids cleared out the last of a downtown homeless encampment, community leaders in Kalamazoo are taking a seemingly opposite approach — providing resources to improve the living conditions for homeless individuals living in tents.
Vice President of Impact Engagement for United Way of the Battle Creek and Kalamazoo Region Alyssa Stewart said even as the homeless encampment population continues to grow, they have no plans to force anyone out.
Their approach follows the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidance that advises communities not to clear encampments during community spread of COVID-19. Exceptions to that are if the area has the immediate shelter space to hold each and every person in the encampment and a clear plan of how to safely get them there.
Stewart said the Kalamazoo area doesn’t currently have the resources or capacity to provide shelter for the estimated 175 people living in homeless encampments, which is in part due to shelter and staffing limitations brought on by the pandemic.
“Unless you’re taking them to a shelter situation, the CDC has advised that encampments not be broken up and instead services be brought to those locations,” Stewart said. “So that’s what we’re attempting to do.”
Stewart said their approach involves a network of community partners coming together to provide services and resources to improve the encampment sites.
“By having people in known encampment sites, supports can be offered there,” Stewart said. “We can bring in things like port-a-potties (and) trash dumpsters that will allow for the clearing of trash and the maintenance of the site to try and make a situation that’s not ideal as safe as it possibly can be for those who are living there.”
More information about the community resources and organizations working to end homelessness can be found online.