2023 outlook: Local leaders hope to tackle three of Kalamazoo's toughest problems

Editor's note: This story is part of Southwest Michigan Second Wave's On the Ground Kalamazoo series.

Gwendolyn Lanier says we need to do something to put an end to homelessness in Kalamazoo.
Gwendolyn Lanier, Peer Specia
The peer support specialist for Ministry with Community, a day shelter for those in need located in downtown Kalamazoo, says it would be the one problem she would fix for the Kalamazoo community – if she could.
To start 2023, we asked several local leaders to look ahead at the new year and the problems the Kalamazoo community faces.
We asked: If they could single-handedly solve one problem for the city of Kalamazoo and the communities they serve, what would that be?
Three things that have plagued the city for the last few years were mentioned more than once. It appears most would like to address the following: end homelessness, stop gun violence and build affordable housing for all.
We also asked what are they most looking forward to this year.
Here is what they had to say:
Joanna Dales, Kalamazoo Community Foundation
Joanna Dales, VP Donor Relations, Kalamazoo Community Foundation“The one problem we would work in partnership with the City of Kalamazoo to solve would be gun violence, which the city declared a public health crisis in 2021,” says Joanna Dales, vice president of Donor Relations for the Kalamazoo Community Foundation. “We want every member of our community to truly love where they live. Eradicating gun violence will make Kalamazoo a safer, healthier, and more lovable community for all.”
For the coming year, she says she and the Community Foundation are most looking forward to welcoming and onboarding a new chief executive officer. They would fill the post vacated by Carrie Pickett-Erway, who departed in May after 19 years as President and CEO. “We are in the midst of a CEO search process with a strong search committee comprised of members from the community, staff, and Board of Trustees.”
Kevin Catlin, Kalamazoo County
Kevin Caitlin, Kalamazoo County Administrator/Controller“I would love to solve the community violence crisis we are experiencing throughout the entire county,” says Kalamazoo County Administrator/Controller Kevin Catlin. “Impacting community violence will allow the county and residents to focus on economic and social development that will help us all prosper.”
During this new year, Catlin says, “I am looking forward to fresh ideas, more civic engagement, and embracing collaboration to create a more welcoming, friendly county.”

Beth McCann, Kalamazoo Neighborhood Housing Assoc.
Beth McCann, Acting Executive Directior, Kalamazoo Neighborhood Housing Association“Kalamazoo does not have enough safe, quality, affordable single-family housing,” says Beth McCannacting executive director of Kalamazoo Neighborhood Housing Services.

“Increasing the supply of affordable housing and removing barriers to homeownership such as access to mortgage financing are critical to improving access for low- to moderate-income homebuyers. Single-family homeownership is foundational to any community, but especially in Kalamazoo’s core neighborhoods. It provides families with the single largest investment of their lifetime. It builds generational wealth for the homeowner, fosters civic pride, and provides children with a stable living environment. Homeownership strengthens the neighborhoods which in turn benefits the community.”
For this new year, McCann says, “I’m looking forward to more in-person time with friends and clients and less Zoom. Zoom was wonderful and necessary, but it isn’t an equal substitute for the personal interactions and connections you have being in person. I love having staff and clients in the KNHS office again and love being out in Kalamazoo with friends. I hope in 2023 I can stop saying ‘before COVID.’”
David Boysen, City of Kalamazoo Public Safety
David Boysen, Chief of the Kalamazoo Department of Public Public Safety“Without a doubt, if I could single-handedly solve one problem in Kalamazoo, it would be to eradicate gun violence,” says David Boysen, new Chief of the Kalamazoo Department of Public Public Safety. He says each shooting incident “causes a ripple effect of pain and suffering,” and, “We can't thrive as a community if we keep losing our young people to unacceptable levels of gun violence.”
Of the new year, he says, “In 2023, I am looking forward to a safer Kalamazoo. We have great community partners who are helping us to reduce violence. Public Safety can't do this work alone and we have proven strategies in place that balance community outreach with enforcement efforts.”

Mary Balkema, Kalamazoo County Housing
Mary Balkema, Kalamazoo County Housing DirectorKalamazoo County Housing Director Mary Balkema would like to make affordable housing available to those who want and need it. “I would like to eradicate the demand for affordable housing,” Balkema says.

She says for this year she is most looking forward to supporting the creation of more housing units, the deployment of Kalamazoo County’s ARPA (American Rescue Plan Act) funding, and the allocation of more grants and loans from the county’s new housing millage into approved projects. She is also hoping for a decrease in violent crimes.

Patrese Griffin, Continuum of Care

Patrese Griffin, Executive Director, Kalamazoo Continuum of CarePatrese Griffin, executive director of the Kalamazoo Continuum of Care, says, “I would solve the problem of non-equitable systems -- whether that be housing, healthcare, wages, etc. That would positively impact us all because the unapologetic presence of equity throughout all systems would begin the realization of Kalamazoo County becoming a community where everyone has the opportunity to thrive.”
During this new year, she says, “I’m looking forward to continued blessings, grace, and an upward trajectory of growth.”

Wendy Fields, NAACP
Wendy Fields, President, MetropolitanWendy Fields, President of the Metropolitan Kalamazoo Branch of National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), says she would eradicate hatred.
“We hate ourselves. We hate each other. We hate because we've been raised to hate without knowing or understanding the root causes (of systemic racism) and how this hatred manifests itself via inequity in housing, employment, criminal justice, education, health, et cetera,” she says.
During this new year, Fields says she is hoping for “impactful, measurable, sustainable and equitable changes in Kalamazoo, as it relates to government, education, housing, gun violence and safety, and an overall healthy community. A house divided against itself will not stand.”

Enjoy this story? Sign up for free solutions-based reporting in your inbox each week.

Read more articles by Al Jones.

Al Jones is a freelance writer who has worked for many years as a reporter, editor, and columnist. He is the Project Editor for On the Ground Kalamazoo.