KALAMAZOO COUNTY, Mich. — While the city of Grand Rapids is clearing out homeless encampments, the city of Kalamazoo is taking a different approach.
They said it comes at the recommendation of the CDC to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Kalamazoo County estimates around 175 individuals are staying in encampments, and while normally numbers fluctuate in the winter time to shelters, they are finding that's not happening this year. Therefore, the county is trying to adjust resources to match that.
"From the city or others, there are no plans at this time to try to take apart those encampments or remove people from those encampments. It is truly attempting to be supportive in this time of crisis," said United Way of the Battle Creek & Kalamazoo Region's VP of Impact and Engagement Alyssa Stewart.
Like many communities, Kalamazoo County has seen homeless encampments grow, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the Kalamazoo County Continuum of Care has taken notice.
While they're doing everything they can to help, the CDC recommends keeping those encampments intact while the virus continues to spread.
"By allowing the encampments to stay intact, we can try to centralize services there, meet the needs to those who are living there, including prevention. Taking down personal protective equipment, taking down hand sanitizer, cleaning supplies and things that can try to eliminate the risk there," said Stewart.
Stewart said it's also making those staying in encampments aware that they have other options should they choose.
"With individuals who are there and are looking to transition, it is getting them to a shelter if they are willing to go to shelter. It is making them aware of the services that are available to them and allowing them to make those choices and keeping them as safe as possible," said Stewart.
While there are a variety of reasons an individual experiencing homelessness would choose to stay in the encampment, the Continuum of Care said many have felt like their needs have not been met in shelters.
"We want to support people where they are. We also want to make our systems of support as strong as they can be, so we have less people who feel like their needs aren’t being met by our systems," said Stewart.
The Continuum of Care said while shelters have had to reduce their numbers of how many people they can serve due to COVID restrictions, many of the shelters still have space for men, women and children to stay.
If you are an individual or an organization looking to help, the Kalamazoo County Continuum of Care is asking they be contacted directly instead of visiting the encampments.