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Kalamazoo police remove dozens of residents from tent city

Leona Larson
Two of the camp residents who were removed on Wednesday.

After weeks of warnings, Kalamazoo Public Safety vacated a homeless encampment off Riverview Drive Wednesday morning. About 50 unhoused residents were removed; the Department of Public Safety says it made no arrests.

Residents at the camp had been given a reprieve last week on the originally scheduled camp closure date, Sept. 29. That reprieve ended Wednesday morning when the area was cordoned off by police tape and residents were ordered to leave.

“And then all the sudden they just come in here, 9 o’clock in the morning. Just kick everybody out, telling ‘em we’ve got 5-minutes to leave,” said Jon Lenard. Lenard credited a public safety officer with saving his tent, but said other belongings had to be left behind.

“Yeah, we were still asleep. We just woke up to all of this. Just booted us out like that,” said Mike Edwards. Edwards said he’d been living at the camp with his wife and dog since May.

The city said residents had ample warning of the closure, and this was the final step in a process that began on Sept. 15 when signs were posted notifying residents of the pending closure. Last week, workers removed tanks of water for cleaning and portable toilets.

In a statement, the city said no arrests were made when the camp was cleared. It also said that on Monday, Continuum of Care and its partner agencies held an outreach event to “offer housing and shelter options, addiction services, medical services, and food.”

According to the statement, 10 people opted for housing at the Kalamazoo Gospel Mission or Oakland House; 50 people received cell phones to remain connected to services; and two families were provided transportation to join family outside the area.

Leona Larson
Residents leaving Kalamazoo's tent city on Wednesday.

The tents were located on a brownfield that is scheduled for cleanup in the coming weeks, including an extensive river cleanup coordinated with the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE).

In July, Mayor David Anderson told WMUK the camp was not sanctioned by the city, though at the time the city was not enforcing trespassing ordinances against the campers as it worked to address the affordable housing shortage.

“This is a short-term solution because obviously this is not a sustainable way to address the housing needs of the people who are in the city of Kalamazoo,” Anderson said in July.

K. Babcock, a volunteer at the camp who described herself as an advocate for the homeless, agreed the location was not a viable solution but empathized with residents forced to leave.

“The people don’t want to be living here either, but there’s nowhere to go. You know when you set up your home somewhere, whatever condition it is in, that is your home, that is where you connect to people. That is where you have your safety net. Breaking these people up without giving them a place to properly go breaks up their safety nets,” said Babcock.

Cars left on the property after evictions were impounded. Kalamazoo Public Safety says campers should contact McDonald’s Towing to get them back.

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