Kalamazoo police clear large homeless encampment

Charles E. Ramirez
The Detroit News

Kalamazoo — Police on Wednesday cleared a homeless encampment on the banks of the Kalamazoo River that has been home to as many as 160 people in the last two years.

City spokesman Ryan Bridges said people who were living at the encampment, located on Ampersee Avenue in the area of Hotop and Riverview, were cooperating with police. No arrests had been made as of noon, he said.

Authorities removed 11 vehicles, including RVs, from the property, Bridges added.

Residents gather in a lot across the street from the Tent City homeless camp along the Kalamazoo River on Wednesday, Oct. 6, 2021, one week after officially closing the camp. City officials said the site is contaminated from fly ash dumped there from a former coal-fired power plant.

Kalamazoo Public Safety Chief Vernon Coakley said police were put in a "painful" situation in having to clear the site of people.

"So this by our leadership had to be done at this time at this date," he said.

Coakley also said the city was able to get help for some of the encampment's residents.

"We've been able to get some of those who were homeless on this site to other locations," he said. "We've also been able to get others transportation to loved ones and other parts of the country."

He made his brief remarks to reporters before police officers escorted members of the media through the encampment just before 1 p.m. Wednesday and after the people living there had left. 

Timmy Tucker, 57, of Kalamazoo, builds a bike from the frame up so he can use it to pull a trailer to remove his belongings from the Tent City homeless camp along the Kalamazoo River in Kalamazoo on Sept. 29, 2021. A week after officially closing the camp, police on Wednesday forced residents off the property which city officials said is contaminated from fly ash dumped there from a former coal-fired power plant.

The ground was muddy and littered with tents, wooden pallets, plywood sheets, cardboard, blue vinyl tarps, old bicycles, plastic bins and trash. Embers from campfires still smoldered. 

People left behind campers and makeshift shelters complete with cots, fire pits and clotheslines.

A small group of protesters gathered just off the property.

The city said in September it would clear the encampment because of health and safety concerns. The land is contaminated by a former coal-fired power plant that dumped its fly ash there, officials said.

A recreational vehicle is towed away after Kalamazoo police cleared the Tent City homeless camp along the Kalamazoo River on Wednesday, Oct. 6, 2021, one week after officially closing the camp. City officials said the site is contaminated from fly ash dumped there from a former coal-fired power plant.

The city said the encampment had continued to grow since the spring when residents of another encampment in the city were forced to leave due to flooding.

According to the Kalamazoo County Continuum of Care, a nonprofit that provides services to the homeless, the site is a brownfield site that has potentially hazardous substances in the ground, making it unsafe and unhealthy for human habitation.

Freelance writer Chris DuMond contributed.