Kzoo commissioner joins protest over homelessness

Kalamazoo and Battle Creek

KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — After a five-hour meeting, a Kalamazoo city commissioner has joined protesters who set up camp in downtown’s Bronson Park.

Homelessness was discussed at the Kalamazoo City Commission’s business meeting Tuesday night. During the meeting, protesters tried to add an item to the city commission agenda. It was a list of demands they want from the city.

Commissioner Shannon Sykes-Nehring moved to accept the list of demands for discussion. No other commissioner seconded the motion, which killed the proposal.

The list of demands included the following:

  • “A moratorium of enforcement on an ordinance preventing people from sleeping in parks until Kalamazoo provides adequate resources. Sleeping from 9 p.m. to 7 a.m. and sleeping on paved surfaces, including the Rotary Stage in Bronson Park is punishable by a misdemeanor charge, $500 fine and up to 90 days in jail.
  • “The removal of David Anderson from Kalamazoo County’s public housing commission. Anderson serves as chair. The group wants to replace him with someone who has had experience being homeless.
  • “An investigation into negligence and abuse at the Kalamazoo Gospel Mission.
  • “The construction of a secular shelter that provides access to housing vouchers and social services.
  • “More affordable housing options for low-income residents.”

After the meeting, Sykes-Nehring joined the protesters in Bronson Park all night and into Wednesday morning.

“The city has a decision to make. Our city manager has a decision to make. My fellow commissioners have a decision to make. And legally, if they feel like they need to move forward with arrests or anything like that, we are here for that,” Sykes-Nehring told 24 Hour News 8.

It comes days after the city of Kalamazoo and protestors struck a deal to move the camp in downtown’s Bronson Park to the grounds of an abandoned fire station on Cedar Street. In return, the city would continue to work with protestors to help with affordable housing and public assistance.

Protestors remained in the park Wednesday morning. Throughout the day, city staff and community leaders worked with demonstrators who have been living in tents on city land for more than two weeks.

The city formed a work group made up of city leaders and representatives from the homeless population. The group’s goal is to help people get into housing and reduce homelessness in Kalamazoo.

Wednesday, Kalamazoo city staff and community leaders worked with demonstrators who have been living in tents on city land for more than two weeks. 

After a meeting that lasted most of the day, city and community leaders presented their proposal to those experiencing homelessness late Wednesday afternoon.  Demonstrators rejected the proposal. 

The proposal city staff offered was meant to offer those experiencing homelessness in Kalamazoo a place to camp while long-term solutions are ironed out. 

“Well, we’re doing that because people need somewhere to go,” said Pastor Michael Brown with the Kalamazoo Gospel Mission.

Brown offered a piece of land near the mission.  For the next 30 days, those experiencing homelessness would be allowed to camp there, and the city would provide restroom facilities and other social services.

“I know the city doesn’t have a lot of options, and we want to give them an option that’s still downtown and it’s still close to the services,” Brown told 24 Hour News 8.

But those who are homeless rejected the proposal.

“We’re tired of being treated like second-class citizens,” said Mike Rizor, one of the demonstrators. “Like, we don’t have rights in this country anymore, and we’re done.”

Rizor said he and those experiencing homelessness are looking for a place “where we can feel safe, out of the elements, for the time being.”

“As I’ve listened to their concerns and they’ve talked about all the services they need, they’ve talked about accessibility,” said Brown. “If we can remove as many obstacles as we can to make it accessible, then now it’s up to them to help work with us.”

The two groups are supposed to meet again at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday to see if a compromise can be developed. 

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