KALAMAZOO, Mich. — A few years ago in 2018, the men and women experiencing homelessness, who were protesting in Bronson Park, were removed from the park by the city. Some were arrested.
They had been living there for several weeks in protest to a city proposal on closing the park at night which would subsequently force them out.
The group called themselves the Bronson Park Freedom Encampment and their goal was to raise awareness about homelessness and the lack of affordable housing and shelter space in Kalamazoo.
Saturday will be the two year anniversary of their eviction. So, they’re hosting a rally to continue spreading their message.
“We decided to put together an event to kind of raise awareness, especially with COVID going on and the fact that homelessness isn’t going away,” said Michael Rizor, one of the main organizers of the event. “Homelessness has gotten worse since two years ago. It’s essentially going to be a time for call-to-action to bring the community back together.”
Rizor said a number of representatives from different organizations will be speaking at the event on how they’re helping the homeless. There will also be other people talking on a variety of topics, including COVID-19's impact on homelessness.
“Where are these people going to go because the [Gospel] Mission still can’t be at max capacity due to COVID. The Ministry with Community, which is the daytime shelter, they can’t be at max capacity due to COVID,” Rizor said. “So it’s just essentially raising awareness before we get to the winter months when the real problem is coming.”
Rizor fears they’ll be out on the street. The police, he said, are so far checking in on homeless men and women when they see them, making sure everything is OK. However he’s concerned that arrests could happen again if they have no place to go.
“These people are human beings,” Rizor said. “They face mental illness and they face all these things just sometimes they don’t have the access they need to these services.”
One of the main services is affordable housing and adequate shelter space. It was their main message during the protest in 2018. And, he’s grateful there’s been some progress with the passing of the anti-discrimination housing ordinance earlier this month, authored by vice mayor Patrese Griffin.
“There’s this big milestone that Griffin, after she got on the city commission and actually before that, had fought for,” Rizor said. “And it’s a great thing because it opens up a lot more housing opportunities.”
It removes barriers like evictions and arrest records and gives people who are homeless or house-less a fair shot at housing.
He added that there’s been a number of new buildings being built. But, it’s not enough, he said.
“The city can say they’re affordable all they want or that a percentage of them are affordable, but they’re not affordable for everybody,” Rizor said. “You have to have two or three jobs to pay for these apartments.”
He said with the jobless rate skyrocketing due to COVID, getting one job is difficult. However he hopes a solution comes soon because the homelessness situation in Kalamazoo could get worse in the coming months.
“Granted yeah evictions are at a standstill due to the federal government. But once those start going up again you’re going to run into more homeless problem because we haven’t tackled it,” Rizor said before a long pause. “And we’ve waited too long.”