GRAND RAPIDS, MI – A man who is among the homeless in Grand Rapids says people who have camped in Heartside Park need more help during the coronavirus pandemic.
“The coronavirus is rife and shelters are overcapacity [sic]”said Michael Camp, a homeless man who slept in the park.” People are really freaking out. “
Fears surrounding the coronavirus persist, but a new challenge facing those camping in the park has been a city decision this week to clean up the camp on Monday, December 21.
A recent increase in the number of people staying at the park has prompted a coalition of community leaders, nonprofits and businesses to form a emergency overflow homeless shelter.
Now this shelter has opened and the emotions were high Monday morning, as the city began to clear the park of the remaining campers. Police told those leaving on Monday that they could not stay an extra night, instead offering them a place to stay in shelters in the area.
But many of those in the park, speaking with MLive on Monday, said the solution isn’t that simple.
“We need a place to stay. I need a house, ”said Desiree Gibson, a homeless woman warming herself by a fire in the park. “I don’t want to live here. I’m afraid of dying or being killed.
“You have people with mental illness, you have people with a lot of different things,” Camp said. “They feel like they have their own space, a form of freedom (living inside a tent instead of a shelter during the coronavirus pandemic).
The homeless who choose to challenge the city will be “subject to possible execution”If they spend the night again in one of the city’s parks. City officials were asked if those who remained could be arrested as part of “potential enforcement” measures.
“I’m sorry, but I can’t predict what might happen in any situation,” said Grand Rapids spokesperson Steve Guitar.
None of the police or other city officials cleaning the encampment who approached through MLive on Monday were unwilling to give their name or comment.
Machelle Whipple, a homeless woman who lived in an encampment in the park, said she has known people who have died sleeping outside, in a case of an alleged drug overdose.
“And they didn’t find her for a few days,” Whipple said. “It takes so long. If you are dead and you stay in your tent, no one will come to see you.