On the morning of September 19, 2018, Kalamazoo police officers were called to Bronson Park to respond to reports that the park was filled with local residents and homeless people who had gathered to protest the city’s new curfew.
According to this new regulation, no one may remain in the park past 7 o’clock p.m. If not compliant, violators may be subject to removal from the park, and possibly, arrest. But those who disagree with this new regulation say the cityś treatment of the poor is unfair and unjust and express their worry about where they will go due to limited space and shelters for homeless residents. They also point to a chronic shortage of housing for low-income residents. Nearby Battle Creek resident and educator, Cheryl Jolin, familiar with these recent events, expressed her concerns and skepticism regarding the true motive behind the new curfew. “I think it’s more like they want the homeless invisible and out of sight, so the city can pretend they don’t exist,” she says. She went on to say that the public needs to recognize the plight of the homeless and the lack of safety nets to help and protect them. Other local residents like Kari Zigterman agree, saying, “Homelessness in Kalamazoo is a very real problem. We as a community need to work with the government and organizations to find a solution.”
A city commision meeting was held on the first of October to allow encampment residents to voice their concern for their month-long home that was broken up by law enforcement officials. Ever since this breakup, it has been very challenging for the group to be able to attend work meetings and connect to social services. During the meeting, commissioners endured insults and even had to cut off the microphone of a female protester that swore at them. Eventually, Mayor Bobby Hopewell threatened to remove anyone in the audience who applauded or spoke out of turn.
Jim Ritsema, Kalamazoo’s city manager, exclaimed in September that the protesters had violated city ordinance by staying in the park, but the city did not want to start making arrests since they planned on resolving the issue without much disturbance. “We are dealing with people that are already at risk and do not want to do anything hastily,” he stated. Furthermore, Ritsema claims the protesters are restricting residents and other visitors from entering the park.
As of today, the city of Kalamazoo continues its plans to break up homeless encampments. To help ease the burden of many, the Kalamazoo Gospel Mission on North Burdick Street is currently making room to accept those who need a place to stay.