It's no secret, that the homeless population in downtown Kalamazoo is very noticable. Some of their own volition, others under tougher circumstances. Regardless, the population does seem to be growing, and infringing on businesses.

This situation finally came to a head this week, when prominent business owner, and founder of Bell's Brewery, Larry Bell, issued a statement to the City Manager about it, and he is "Fed Up."

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Bell is well known for starting Bell's Brewery, which sold a few years ago so he could pursue other ventures. But he is still VERY much ingrained in the community, and owns several buildings in the downtown area still.

He, as well as other business owners have been working around a homeless population that isn't going anywhere anytime soon, and finally this past week, it came to a head for the former brewer.

MLive reports that Thursday, Jan. 4th, Bell said an employee at the Larry J. Bell Library Foundation notified police of homeless people who had set up camp on vacant land Bell owns at Walbridge and Ransom streets. Officers then allegedly told the employee they couldn't remove the campers from the property without approval from their supervisor, and that approval didn't come.

He took to social media, and posted about the incident, saying according to the Kalamazoo City Charter...

"The first duty for a city manager is to see that all laws and ordinances are enforced."

The post was directly pointed at city manager Jim Ritsema, and is asking that he be fired from his position for falling short of his duties.

"Every week we call something in. The neighborhood is awash with people trespassing. I've posted signs on all my properties in the city, which officer said will help enable them to enforce trespassing laws.
"That doesn't stop anything. Sometimes the cops come and tell them they can stay until 5 a.m. and the homeless all know that cop goes home at 5."

The property where the incident happened is one of 17 that Bell owns, but according to other business owners in downtown, he's not the only one having trouble.

"I don't have to invest in Kalamazoo. I"m looking to spend all this money for my foundation in Kalamazoo, but if Kalamazoo is not going to enforce laws, why wouldn't I call Portage or Comstock, or somewhere else?
"If the city can't guarantee that they are going to protect my personal property, why would I stay? It breaks my heart, because this has been my life down in that neighborhood. But there is only so much you can do."

Since the initial social media post, and uproar from Bell, the City of Kalamazoo has responded to his accusations. Spokesperson, Michael Smith, released a statement on behalf of Ritsema.

"The Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety is empowered to enforce the laws, and the enforcement of those laws is not restricted by the city manager or the city manager's office...
"The city of Kalamazoo appreciates the compassion and interest of issues expressed by business leaders such as Larry Bell. [We] take seriously the concerns of its citizens, business leaders and other city stakeholders regarding downtown safety.
"We continue to implement and support numerous initiatives to provide a clean, safe environment in and around the downtown area."

Kalamazoo's Homeless Situation

It's nothing new for the homeless in Kalamazoo to be a target of the news, and public figures.

The New York Times recently did a piece on Kalamazoo's homeless, and there have been numerous initiatives to try and help the population around town. But there have also been other initiative taken that do the complete opposite of helping them.

There have also been tense moments with authorities on breaking up homeless encampments, that some might consider excessive.

But ultimately, tent cities continue to pop up, and homeless appear in doorways and alleys on a daily basis around downtown, with no end in sight, or true solution being offered by anyone of notoriety.

What do you think? Do Bell and other downtown business owners have a point? What could be done to help our homeless in Kalamazoo that wouldn't be considered excessive or cruel?

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