In my last post, I told you how the county parks staff sucks. Well, here’s the resolution in question, the situation at Occu-Camp which is the only legal place for homeless people to camp on the edge of Madison and some details so you can have more information on the issue, which is the part that should matter.
I remember the morning that Occupy Madison shut down as if it was yesterday. I have been bitter and angry and disappointed in my local government and its officials and the allegedly justice system ever since, with a passion and fury like never before. And as the the months tick by, and solution after solution gets shot down, that passion and fury grows. At this point is has probably reached an unhealthy obsession, but dang, I just can’t give up on the people that are affected by all the wrong-headed and stupid decision making going on. So, here’s yet another story about that aforementioned stupidity. I’ll start in the beginning.
On the morning that Occupy was closing down, I stopped by several times to see what I could do. I couldn’t work, I was too worried. Each time I stopped by, I talked to former occupants, asking where they were going, how would I get in touch with them. Gathering phone numbers or emails if I had them and trying to help problem solve, but really having no answers. And neither did they, some would go back to where they were before Occupy (many found the areas they were hiding in clear cut by the city), others truly had no idea. At one point I stopped to get all the canned food from the kitchen tent so that they could donate it back to the food bank since homeless people on the streets and in the woods don’t really want to carry around cans of food that are heavy, they can’t open and have no place to prepare it. When I stopped by, I ran into one person and I gave them a little bit of money. We were recycling a loan to someone that we never expected to get back, so we decided to pay it forward. The guy gave me a hug, then started crying. So I started crying. He attempted to console me as I explained that I wished there was more I could have done, I apologized for letting them down. He quickly passed me off to someone else, I dried my tears and attempted to hold it together and went and dropped off the food. Finally, when the site was nearly cleaned and the street sweepers were doing their thing, I stopped by one final time and I asked again, where were people going, and the person I gave the money to told me that 5 of them had decided to camp at one of the county parks. I don’t recall now if it was Token Creek (3 of them had vehicles) or Lake Farm. But that was the beginning . . .
NAVIGATING THE PARKS SYSTEM
Since May 1, homeless people have been legally living in our county parks. GASP! It hasn’t been easy. It is not a great solution. But it is a solution where there are showers and restrooms. And you don’t have to worry about sleeping outside downtown where drunken college kids stumble buy threatening to kick you or making fun of you, or where the police or park rangers threaten to ticket you. And, as I mentioned, but it bears repeating, there are showers and restrooms. And electricity to charge your phone. And even internet access.
Here’s how it works, for $16 per night, you can get a site without electricity where you can put up 6 tents and 6 people can stay. Every 14 days you have to leave the park for 2 days and then you can come back. You can only pay for 4 days at a time if you haven’t reserved it in advance. You can’t pay ahead until those 4 days are over – so on the 3rd day, you can pay for an additional three days. If you over pay and don’t have exact change, they just keep it as a donation. If you want to reserve it more than 4 days in advance, you have to go on-line, but you have to have a credit card (how many homeless people do you think have credit cards!?). So for the holidays like Memorial Day or 4th of July, you risk not having a site if you can’t reserve it in advance (means more stress for the camp). If you do pay on-line, you have to do it at least 5 days in advance and they charge you and extra $10. Lots of rules to follow, steep learning curve.
Anyways, that’s just one part of the issues. Another issue is the camp grounds themselves. There really are only 3 options.
Option 1: Token Creek. You can’t bike there. You can’t walk there. No buses go there. So, you need a vehicle, and that’s quite a bit of gas money to get from there to Labor Ready where many people work. If you don’t have a vehicle, you have to work on other people’s schedules or you miss out.
Option 2: Mendota County Park in Middleton. Buses come close, but not early morning or late night. Weekends are even worse. It’s a 14 mile bike ride to work for many people. So, essentially same issues as above. These sites cost $25 because they only have electric sites, so its an extra $9 a night.
Option 3: Lake Farm Park. Bus stop is about 3/4 – 1 mile away. But, its on the bike path to downtown. So, this is the best option. People were actually able to stay at this site without anyone having a vehicle because they were physically able to walk to the bus or ride their bikes. Not an option for some folks.
So, Lake Farm is the preferred, but not optimal site. It’s really the only one that works. People have tried other (non-legal) options, but have gotten kicked out of places they tried to stay closer in the city.
WHO HAS BEEN DOING THIS AND HOW
On May 1st there were 5 people doing this. 2 kinda disappeared and I don’t see any more, but I believe they are still homeless. One found housing, one camps in the State Parks and one is still camping in the county parks.
Since then, I believe I counted 40 people that have stayed at the camp. We have had between 1 and 3 sites, with 4 – 18 people staying at a time. Right now, there are 16 people who are at camp or planning to return within the week. Three people joined yesterday, one more is expected. People come and go.
Between May 1 and June 18th, I’m not sure how many people stayed at camp, but a good estimation is that they were able to keep this going without support and provide about 240 nights of shelter. On June 18th, the Tenant Resource Center started paying for the site(s) because there was a donor who has donated $2000 to help keep the camp going. Between 6/18 and 7/24 I think (I have to double check) there were about 200 nights of shelter provided. On July 24th, we started charging $2 per night. Since then, between 7/24 and 8/8 we have provided 189 nights of shelter for people. So, as of yesterday, over 600 nights of shelter for homeless people have been accomplished by using the parks system. That is not insignificant.
BEHAVIOR PROBLEMS AT CAMP
Camp rules are being established. Two people had to be kicked out of camp for behavior. The cops have been called twice for incidents related to the camp that I am aware of, one was a visitor, one was a resident there. Both were domestic violence issues. Cops were also called for an unwanted visitor. There have been two parks citations that I am aware of since the camp has primarily been at Lake Farm and Tenant Resource Center has been involved. One person had an unregistered dog. The other person got a warning because they stayed past the 14 day limit. There may have been another for a dog that wasn’t on a leash, but the park rangers brought a leash and a dog dish. There have been other times that the parks staff have talked to the campers and “educated” them. But I’m not really aware of other major incidents, I usually hear about them from the staff if there are. Oh, and the staff tried to say we had to have a permit because we invited people to the camp site for a potluck. I think they’re wrong, we didn’t get a permit. They were miffed, especially since the media came.
The cool thing about this, unlike Occupy is that there is back up for their good neighbor rules. The police refused to help enforce anything, but at the parks, quiet hours are enforced. And if there are issues with drinking, people keep it to a minimum so they don’t risk being kicked out of the park. So, the self-policing is aided by the park rules and there are less issues.
SO, WHAT WAS THE ISSUE AT THE PARKS COMMISSION
Here’s the resolution that was before them:
RES. 86, 12-13
ADDRESSING EMERGENCY HOUSING NEEDS OF THE HOMELESS
Stable housing is fundamental to an individual’s physical and economic security and mental and emotional well-being. Unfortunately, the housing needs of many Dane County residents are not currently being met. There are only 312 shelter beds in Dane County. Rural residents experiencing homelessness must find transportation to the City of Madison to obtain shelter because all shelter beds are concentrated in Madison. Families have a 90 day lifetime limit for shelter. Single men have a 60 day annual limit and are only served by one provider. In 2010, 1,065 individuals were turned away without shelter and 64 families were turned away from the Warming House. Veteran’s make up 15% of Dane County’s single men homeless population and people of color and people with health problems are also overrepresented in the homeless population. Many unhoused persons in Dane County have income to support a rent payment, but are unable to access housing due to the historically low rental vacancy rate and the extreme shortage of housing affordable to low-income people.
Federal funding for subsidized housing programs has declined for the past 30 years resulting in wait lists for subsidized housing that are years long and/or closed. The most popular federally subsidized housing program, the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program has also been closed in both Madison and Dane County for years. Despite the best efforts of non-profit agencies, the amount of available single room occupancy (SRO) housing in Madison is scarce. There are programs available to men and women, but they are full and have waiting lists. Women have the option of renting a room at the YWCA but there is no comparable men-only option. Private developers have not been creating new SROs. Since January 2011 the problem was compounded by the closing of two Madison motels, a loss of 136 rooms unofficially used for transitional and long-term housing.
Some unhoused persons have pursued temporary living arrangements at Dane County campgrounds. Dane County campground ordinances and policies, however, were not drafted with the unhoused person in mind. Arbitrary reservation limits, mandatory online reservations, and costly fee schedules (when considered for long term use) make the campground a challenging option for unhoused folks with nowhere else to go. The campground at Lake Farm Park, due to its relative proximity to downtown Madison, bike trails, bus lines, and employment opportunities available to unhoused persons is the preferred campground for a mutually supportive community of unhoused persons who are currently living in three (3) campground sites.
NOW THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that Dane County recognizes the inherent human dignity in every Dane County resident and commits to ameliorating the difficulties experienced by unhoused persons when carrying out basic, life-sustaining activities.
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that Dane County recognizes that Dane County campgrounds are currently being utilized by unhoused persons who lack adequate options to carry out basic, life-sustaining activities.
BE IT FINALLY RESOLVED that for the remainder of the camping season, three campsites at Lake Farm Park shall be designated for use by unhoused persons and the following policies shall be implemented for the designated sites: (1) Limits on number of consecutive days for registration and consecutive days of campground stays shall be lifted so long as the reservation or stay of the unhoused person or group does not interfere with a prior reservation and accommodates the needs of park staff to maintain the site; (2) Reservation fees shall be paid from the human service reserve fund in the Dane County Department of Human Services; and (3) The Tenant Resource Center shall be responsible for determining who is eligible to camp at the designated sites and will provide the campground staff with information regarding persons camping and vehicles, if any, in accordance with existing park policies.
Submitted by Supervisors Wegleitner, Hendrick, Hotchkiss, Sargent, Zweifel, Richmond, Krause, Levin, Pan and Matano, August 2, 2012.
Referred to HEALTH & HUMAN NEEDS, PERSONNEL & FINANCE, ENVIRONMENT, AGRICULTURE & NATURAL RESOURCES, PARKS and HOMELESS ISSUES.
So, the resolution asks for a temporary waiver of a policy through October 30th, and by the time this could pass the county board, it would be a month and a half which means they could avoid moving twice. What is the big threat? Why did they need to go nutty?
WHAT CAN YOU DO TO HELP
County Board Resolutions
There are currently 3 resolutions before the county board to keep an eye on and support.
Resolution 84 – Basic Needs Facility
Resolution 86 – See above
Resolution 87 – Emergency Basic Needs
You could email your supervisors (firstname.lastname@example.org and include your address so they know you are a constituent) and indicate your support or come to the City-County Liaison Committee tonight and watch the blog for future meetings.
You can donate to the Tenant Resource Center – make sure you note it is for the basic needs fund.
We can always use tarps, tents, food, ice, coleman cook stove gas, mosquito spray, razors, personal cleanliness items (deodorant, shampoo, soap, etc), forks, knives, spoons, cups, plates, bowls, plastic tubs to keep things dry when it rains, etc. You can drop items off at the Tenant Resource Center.
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