KALAMAZOO, Mich. — After weeks of warnings and a Tuesday night ultimatum, local law enforcement conducted a pre-dawn sweep of Bronson Park in Kalamazoo on Wednesday, clearing out some 30 homeless people who had been camping there illegally.
Within two hours, most of the park was clear and the majority of the campers had left voluntarily. Police said they arrested 14 people, including Kalamazoo City Commissioner Shannon Sykes.
Of those arrested, 10 face misdemeanor charges of breaking a police line; one (Sykes) was charged with attempted resisting and obstruction, also a misdemeanor; and three others were arrested on various outstanding warrants. Additionally, eight citations were issued for illegal camping.
City crews then moved in, disposing of all abandoned property in the park, which was temporarily closed to allow for a thorough cleaning of the park and the repair of law sections damaged by the camping activities. City officials said the park should reopen Thursday.
In a written statement on the sweep, released Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2018, the city outlined the ordinances officers were acting under: "Under City of Kalamazoo ordinances, camping in any park is prohibited without the written permission of the City. Fires in a grill or otherwise, are also prohibited in Bronson Park. Persons violating city park rules may be required to leave the park for the balance of the day, and persons refusing to leave are subject to arrest for trespassing. No city parks have the amenities to allow camping, which has been prohibited since 2002.
The illegal campground, which formed almost a month ago, was described by those members as a protest against what they perceived to be a lack of mental health treatment and affordable housing services in the city. The city has insisted it is doing all it can to accommodate the growing homeless population and will meet with its representatives in the near future.
“It is our hope that no one is arrested," Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety Assistant Chief Jeff Vanderwiere said as police prepared to enter the park before 7 a.m. "But we can no longer allow the encampment to go on as is."
City officials also said that those who were camping at the park were advised to call 211 for housing assistance, or to relocate to the Kalamazoo Gospel Mission. They also were given the option of moving their tents to land just north of the mission on Edwards Street. The city said those locations have access to the services of the mission and Ministry with Community, which include water, showers, shelter, food and laundry.
According to the city, the Kalamazoo Gospel Mission has stated that it has 118 spaces available.
The most recent federally mandated “Point In Time” count of homeless which occurred in January, 2018, found 567 homeless individuals in Kalamazoo County.
City officials also said that several upcoming events have been set up to help those who were camped in the park, and other homeless in Kalamazoo. The events include opportunities to meet with Gryphon Place staff for assistance in acquiring housing, health, food and other critical needs. The opportunities started Wednesday and will continue through Friday at the First Congregational Church and Ministry with Community.