Homeless Kalamazoo fights mud and floods


Heavy rains in June and July turned a homeless camp in the Kalamazoo region into a mud pit.

The city has been looking for ways to fix the problem while focusing its efforts on affordable housing and discouraging uncoordinated donations from well-meaning people who litter the sites and cost tens of thousands of dollars to clean up.

“People are sliding and sliding and nothing but mud. They can’t even get to their tents without being covered in mud, ”says Nici Wilson, volunteer and advocate for the homeless. “I can’t do my job because I blew up my engine when I was bad,” says a 57-year-old construction worker who calls himself “Pops”. His car broke down on an asphalt road just outside the camp. “Pops” got in the car to avoid walking through the mud to get to his tent. “It’s even hard to walk around in there, it’s all muddy all over the place.”

Rox Maeir is a “Meal Train” volunteer who prepares lunch for the residents of the camp once a month. The meal train is coordinated by the Kalamazoo Coalition for the Homeless. Volunteers choose a day to provide a meal so that the food is distributed evenly throughout the week.

“I know they looked outside their tent and thought, ‘I must be walking in this mud,’ Maeir says. “And maybe the choice was: am I hungry or have my feet muddy for the rest of the day because there is no room to wash?” Maeir made 100 sandwiches for residents on a rainy Friday in June, but she says only half of the residents ventured into the mud for a meal.

So far, the town of Kalamazoo has not found an economically viable solution for the “pops” and the other 175 people are said to be living in a hundred tents near Riverview Drive. Even though the camp has not been planned and is not managed by the city, the authorities are studying possible short-term solutions while concentrating their efforts on permanent solutions.

“Is there anything that can be done very quickly to elevate yourself?” And what we are hearing right now is that there is no quick fix, ”says Laura Lam, deputy director of the city of Kalamazoo. “It’s a solution of over $ 80,000 and it can trigger a state permit because we are talking about working in a flood zone.

Lam adds, “If our long-term goal is to ensure that everyone has safe and stable housing, for us to think of an investment of $ 80,000 in a temporary solution for a road, I immediately begin to translate what these dollars could mean in terms of stable and secure housing.

Kalamazoo Mayor David Anderson said there was a tendency to camp in abandoned and overgrown places across the country. “We see city after city after city, urban areas across the country handling this growing camping phenomenon.”

The location of the Kalamazoo homeless camp is not where the city would have chosen. Anderson describes it as a “brownfield” – a former industrial property, in a flood zone. He says he “grew up organically”. “In reality, the response (from the city) was more about people being there already and allowing people to be there, while other better resolutions are being sought,” Anderson says. It indicates the options available now through COVID Emergency Rental Assistance (CERA). New rules allow homeless people to use federal assistance for up to 90 days in a motel. Requests can be made by Kalamazoo County Continuum of Care.

As the city searches for cheaper options for the mud problem, Lam and Anderson say people shouldn’t be driving cars into the encampment. It just makes it more muddy.

They also say that concerned citizens should work with the Kalamazoo Coalition for the Homeless, Kalamazoo integrated services, the Kalamazoo Continuum of Care, or Open doors before depositing food or property donations. Over a six-month period, Lam says cleaning up unused or unnecessary donations from homeless settlements cost the city $ 48,815, unwittingly turning a good deed into costly rubbish.

“These are vast amounts of well-meaning donations that have not been used,” says Lam. “Either they weren’t needed or they were left out in the elements, but they really exacerbated the problem. Again, I appreciate the size of our community’s heart, but if not well orchestrated, it can really create a much more difficult situation. “

Leander Rabe of the Kalamazoo Coalition for the Homeless helped clean up the Mill Street settlement in December. He estimates that about half of the garbage comes from unsolicited donations.

“We’re saying ‘do it with’ not ‘do it for’,” says Rabe, who encouraged people to join the Facebook group that coordinates efforts to make sure people in need get what they want. need. “Doing it with” means residents have a voice. We build relationships with residents and they are involved in the solutions. When people “do things for”, they decide for themselves what they need without talking to residents. They get on their white horse and leave quite well. It’s toxic charity and it happens a lot. “


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