Protesters in Kzoo say housing options for homeless are “inadequate”

Posted at 10:34 PM, Sep 05, 2018
and last updated 2018-09-05 22:35:07-04

KALAMAZOO, Mich. — City officials met with protesters twice Wednesday afternoon to discuss housing options after the protesters said their current living conditions at the vacant fire station on Cedar Street were unlivable.

“With the rain flooding our tents and then it stopping and turning to sunshine and heat, it’s very humid,” said protester Faith Vlietstra, who has been living at the station since the city moved the group there last week. “It’s hotter than it should be, and we’re all exhausted.”

She and dozens of other protesters, who were either homeless or supported the cause of the homeless, met with City Manager Jim Ritsema and others for the first meeting at the fire station. Among the group of protesters was City Commissioner Shannon Sykes-Nearing, who joined the encampment Tuesday night after getting a firsthand look at the conditions at the fire station.

“So the list of basic demands that we heard this morning are listed there,” Ritsema said, reading from a handout while standing in the middle of the group. “They include convenient location, shelter, shade, food, [and]  water,” plus blanets and toilet facilities.

One woman asked for ice and coolers for their bottled water.

“I hear that, and we’ll talk about that, too,” Ritsema answered. “The Gospel Mission has agreed to allow those who are homeless to sleep indoors at the Gospel Mission.”

Ritsema said the Mission will also allow outdoor camping on their vacant lot near Edwards Street beginning Thursday morning at 8 a.m. until October 5. Protesters  immediately rejected the offer, calling it “inadequate” and “not acceptable."

"What we have here is we’ve got a group of homeless folks who are just tired of us not hearing them and not really listening to their needs," said Sykes-Nearing during an interview earlier in the day. "They’ve organized themselves, which is incredible and exciting."

Sykes-Nearing facilitated the meeting and suggested the group take a few hours to process the offer. They did until the second meeting began at 6:30 p.m.

“We’re at where we are right now,” Ritsema said during the second meeting. “You’re going to do what you got to do. We’re going to do what you asked us to do, and we’ll be back with solutions.”

Ritsema told the crowd that he wanted to hear all of their concerns. A third meeting is planned for Friday morning. Protester Art Morelock said he’ll be there. And he’ll be at the Mission on Thursday to discuss solutions there, specifically to see if many who have been banned will be allowed back in.

“Here’s the thing, you’re going to offer to unbar me?” Morelock said. “No. I’m the voice of 100. Not one.”