Kalamazoo’s proposed Places of Dignity for homeless stir debate at city commission meeting

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Concerned Kalamazoo residents voiced their opinions about the proposed installation of 50 Places of Dignity, or PODs, for those experiencing homelessness during Monday night’s city commission meeting.

PODs are small, temporary living spaces for people without homes, until they can find an affordable place to move.

If the city approves the Housing Resources Inc., or HRI, plan, the PODs would be placed on Lake Street just west of I-94.

Members of the community spoke at the meeting both in favor and against the PODs, despite the issue not being on Monday night’s agenda.

“I think it’s a great idea what you’re doing with the PODs, but all you’re doing is building a low budget project housing,” William Ferrell, who owns Light Truck Parts on Lake Street, said. “One of the places you ought to put it, and you won’t have a problem with homeless anymore, is that 1505 Crosstown Parkway, right in front of the police center. Put law enforcement in their back door and they won’t behave like they do now, it won’t be drug dealers there, you won’t have syringes laying all over the ground.”

Another resident spoke about her personal experience with homelessness.

“There’s many reasons people end up being homeless. I ended up homeless myself, I got a divorce, lost everything; ended up living in my car,” Mary Gilbert said. “People get sick, people lose their jobs, domestic violence issues; not every homeless person is going to be a problem and not every homeless person wants to live in a tent in the woods.”

“You’re talking about putting homeless people in my neighborhood, I’ve been dealing with homeless for the last three years,” Richard Barkley, who lives on Egleston Avenue, said. “They’re breaking into houses. They’re squatting in houses. They’re living at the end of the street I live on. They wander the neighborhood all hours of the day and night. My poor dogs are going crazy because there are people wandering my neighborhood.”

In addition to area residents and businesses owners, advocacy organizers also shared their opinions.

“This project is not an encampment, it is not a transient space for a night or two, this is a place for people –for other human beings– to live, to receive shelter, which is one of the basic tenets of human necessity,” Advocacy Chair for the Kalamazoo Coalition for the Unhoused Emily Hooker said. “I have personally seen it work here in Jackson, Michigan where a dedicated group of business owners and professionals work together to create a modular housing system for their unhoused neighbors right alongside them in their community. Not shuffled off to some more out-of-the-way place to be forgotten, far from resources and outside of society like lepers.”

This is the third location HRI has attempted to place the PODs. They previously attempted to do so at Stockbridge Avenue and Alcott Street, both of which were met with pushback from locals.

The city is continuing to work with HRI to finalize a location for the PODs, but no decisions have been made yet.