Ruby Barron

Groundcover contributor

The Ampersee Encampment was located in a former industrial site near the Growlers Stadium in Kalamazoo. It was home to almost 150 residents after nearly tripling in size this June. The city planned to evict the camp on September 29, citing concerns about health and safety of the residents. However residents of the camp had greater access to support and services due to their close proximity to each other, similar to the Ann Arbor community during the days of Camp Take Notice (2012-2014). Congregating also meant that evicting the camp was much more visible than the perpetual criminalization and harassment that unhoused people on their own face.

Early in the morning on Wednesday September 29, residents of the Ampersee Encampment in Kalamazoo and their supporters fortified their home hoping to prevent a planned eviction. Dozens of protestors held signs outside the camp and chanted slogans like ‘Where will they go?’ The city did not have an answer.

Tensions grew throughout the day as police circled the camp ahead of the 5 p.m. eviction. The city also removed the porta potties from the camp and police officers were alleged to taunt residents of the camp by gesturing to their weapons and making statements like “You’ll be out of here at five.” At one point a fire broke out which residents extinguished themselves before emergency services arrived, demonstrating their resilience during the crisis.

The tension came to an unexpected, temporary conclusion as the city announced a two week delay in the eviction. Residents and activists celebrated the partial victory with food, brought by local food justice organization Food Not Bombs, in the shade of a structure built by a resourceful resident.

However, the victory proved short-lived. Kalamazoo Public Safety forcefully evicted the Ampersee Camp one week early on Wednesday October 6 in contradiction of the announced date, before many residents could relocate. Residents were given just five minutes to gather their belongings and vacate the camp. Many received citations for trespassing. One former resident recounted escaping the raid-like sweep by boating down the river abutting the camp. The city then destroyed what remained of the rushed evacuees’ shelters and possessions with a bulldozer, nearly running over a sleeping resident according to one account.

That night, many residents set up camp in an adjacent field which was kept under the constant surveillance of a KPS cruiser’s spotlight. The next day, on October 7, the new camp was evicted and 10 residents and activists were arrested. While the city’s stated motivation for the eviction was concerns for the safety of the inhabitants, it is unclear how deep that concern runs: the only refuge available to the unhoused was a brownfield site with significant heavy metal contaminations.

With the loss of their community — an imperfect community, but somewhere that provided a degree of stability and security — the residents of the Ampersee Encampment are left with the question: where will we go?

A sign displayed in the camp reminded residents to remain optimistic: “To ALL the residents here at Ampersee Encampment (Tent City) when we stand UNITED we are STRONGER. We may still fail but we will never fail ourselves. We DESERVE a voice. But if it falls on deaf ears we still won’t have failed because we believe in ourselves and each other. We have all grown in our time here. We are stronger in experience and knowledge. The Bureaucrats CAN’T take that away. STAND STRONG and BE HEARD!”

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