It was a long day yesterday

Posted November 14th, 2012 @ 8:04 AM by

I took the day off and spent it with Occupy folks, and here’s all the updates. Short story: County said they had to be out by noon. They didn’t budge. Nothing happened. Homeless Services Consortium groups admit no one has rooms available for people who are homeless. Services simply don’t exist.

HEIDI WEGLEITNER LAYS OUT THE SITUATION

From: Heidi Wegleitner
Date: November 13, 2012, 7:26:27 AM CST
To: samcdonell@yahoo.com, John Hendrick , Carousel Andrea Bayrd , Melissa Sargent
Cc: mbasford@housinginit.org
Subject: So now that the budget is over…

Last night, during Melissa’s listening session (where folks were informed that the campers would be required to leave today), Lynn Green promised that they would work with every camper on an individualized basis to make sure they can access shelter. I appreciate staff’s attention to these emergency needs and commitment to giving them special consideration, but I am concerned that promises are being made that cannot be kept. When I spoke with Lynn after our budget meeting she was not sure how these policy exceptions were going to be implemented and how long they would last. So, folks are leaving a crappy mid-long term solution (visibly camping where community supporters can reach them and local government is under pressure to address basic human needs) for a very uncertain short term solution.

Where will the motel voucher money come from to house these women who have already used their allotted days in the last year (unlike men, their clock does not reset on Nov. 1 and lately 5-12 women have been turned away every night)? What about the folks that have been banned from shelter (particularly Porchlight which seems to issue the most bans)? What about the bed bugs at the men’s shelter? Are people “refusing services” when they choose not to expose themselves to infestation and bug bites? I understand that there are AODA beds open and hope that if there are folks interested in pursuing residential treatment, they connect with them. But, not everyone camping needs, wants, or is ready to pursue treatment.

It continues to amaze me that the county board can pass $600k in funding for a day center without blinking an eye, human services department can intervene to have shelter policies waived to get folks off the hill, but it is essentially impossible to permit camping or occupancy on some county land or in some county structure.

Our shelter system has serious problems. The Homeless Issues committee should look into the stay limits and the health, safety and sanitary issues, but we have a full agenda and are only advisory. I think it is in the best interest of the County Board to acknowledge these problems and resource limitations and address them, not deny they exist and facilitate uncertain and temporary solutions which will only lead to further mistrust and alienation by those who already have already been underserved in our community.

I am still unsatisfied with the way the camping/parks/portapotty issues were dealt with and I plan to be pursuing some type of ordinance amendment to facilitate camping and community-living for unhoused people who are unable or willing to access shelter. As always, I appreciate your input and will work for your support in that process.

In the meantime, if you have thoughts on this current situation and how we should address shelter access and shelter conditions, please advise. One way to respond to access denials and complaints re shelter conditions is to adopt a third party shelter grievance process to process shelter complaints. I think this should also be pursued by ordinance. Complaints could be reviewed by Saterfield, new contract administrator, and then reviewed by the Homeless Issues Committee or a subcommittee thereof. Advocates have been talking about this for years, but shelter providers have always been rigidly opposed.

Thanks for your consideration,
Heidi

I couldn’t have said it better . . . .

REQUEST FOR LIST OF NAMES OF PEOPLE AT CAMP
After the community meeting on Monday night and the news they want us out by noon the following day, I scrambled to talk with folks and see what they wanted to do. Lynn Green, the Director of Human Services, had asked me for a list of people at camp. No one felt comfortable giving their information to the county, because although they might like services, they were afraid the information might just be used to give them tickets. I typed up a statement for them to sign that said the following:

As a member of Occupy Madison, I am providing my name and contact information to Dane County Human Services solely to obtain housing, shelter or other services from Dane County Human Services or its contracted non-profit purchase of service agencies and I am requesting strict confidentiality. You may not use this information to provide it to elected officials, other Dane County Departments, media, non-profit service providers or others without my express written consent.

The form gets this name and contact info, gives them options to get release of information from various agencies for various advocates and then says.

Please understand that I am providing this information with the understanding that the services provided will provided to all persons involved with Occupy Madison, that the solutions will not be temporary and the services need to be appropriate to meet our needs. By providing this information, I am not consenting to any services which I may determine do not meet my needs or agreeing to take any particular course of action.

I met with 11 of the 25ish people at camp that morning, 8 signed the form, 3 wanted to think about it. I then went to Bubbles and Bethel to look for additional people, but didn’t find folks, so I scanned and emailed the 8 names I had by 10:30 to Lynn and told her I’d keep trying to get people to sign.

I had called Andy Heidt, the county ombudsman to help us out, but later I got a call from Lynn Green asking me not to put him in the middle of this. Uh, isn’t that what an ombudsman is? Green also was calling to let me know that they were offering to move us if there was any legal place for us to go (there is not) and that they would store people’s property. I appreciate her trying to problem solve, but those weren’t the key issues – the key issue is – no legal place to go.

PRIVATE CITIZENS STEP UP
Oakhouse bakery delivered donuts in the morning.

During our morning meeting at the lovely Lakeview Church the awesome Pastor Dean played host to the group, brought in lots of food, made coffee, cracked jokes with the group, provided hats and mittens and hand warmers and other necessities for the cold weather and made us all feel welcome.

A neighbor stopped by to let us know of some resources in a group he’s associated with and to offer some support in terms of items he has that might be helpful.

Church members stopped by to chat, more food arrived at the church and camp all day long.

And a guy stopped by to let us know he might have some land that we could camp on. I filled him in on the requirements and realized that he also owned a building we had looked at a few months ago . . . so we are exploring options.

People emailed and facebooked me asking how they could help, and a former housing case manager offered to help out if necessary.

Thank you everyone! And I’m sure I”m missing some others, it was a long day.

NOON CAME AND WENT
After the meeting, we scrambled to get the forms in, got people to some places they needed to go and gathered again at noon – with people designated to take tickets if they were to issue them and community members rallying in support. No media showed up. No county staff showed up. No police showed up. No sheriff’s department showed up. Noon came and went. I think Anita Weier’s email below explains why . . . (and I wish I had read it earlier in the day, but I really didn’t have time to check my emails during the day).

Greetings: Though county officials asked the Occupy/homeless campers to leave the park by noon today,
that was not done. The campers said the timeframe was unrealistic. Meanwhile, county social service
people have worked to find spots in shelters for the campers, arrange storage of possessions and
assist with transportation. Social service agencies were supposed to go talk with the campers at around 2 p.m.
Also, Dane County and Madison law enforcement officials had not agreed by 12:30 p.m. as to which
department should be in charge of the departure if enforcement is necessary.
I suggested they
work together, but we shall see.
The campers will leave, but not as soon as concerned neighbors would like.
So please try to be patient. County Supervisor Melissa Sargent and I are working hard to resolve this situation,
Alder Anita Weier

Hmmmm . . . I know Captain Cam McLay told us in no uncertain terms that the city police would be dealing with us. So, I wonder if that is still the case, I’m kinda assuming so.

HOMELESS SERVICES CONSORTIUM
Since nothing happened at noon, we knew that the Homeless Services Consortium (the homeless services agencies) were meeting across the street and the Mayor was attending, so several of us wandered over to see what was up. They spent about an hour going around the room introducing themselves. When they got done, one of the people raised their hands and said that she was working with a family and she had given them all the resource lists and they didn’t find any services. She asked how many people just have waiting lists. About half the room raised their hands. AFter a while, Alderperson Anita Weier asked the opposite of that quesiton, how many people have vacancies. NOT. ONE. PERSON. RAISED. THEIR. HAND.

This led to some confusion and here is what followed:

After the meeting, we talked in the hallway with Weier. She was concerned that people were refusing services. Trina Clemente explained it this way. People don’t want to sleep where there are bed bugs. Weier said that the health department inspected and there were no bed bugs, but of course, we have people at camp with visible bed bug bites from a week and a half ago – and if they’re not bed bugs, what are they? Anyways, Trina explained it this way. If you owned a barn and a pasture and a homeless person came and asked if they could stay in the barn and you said yes and then they came back and said it was infested (with bees?), would you tell them that they had to sleep in the barn and they couldn’t sleep in the pasture? Would you sleep in the barn or the pasture?

THE GOVERNMENT CAME TO “HELP”
We went back to camp, some folks from the community were still there and around 2:15 all of a sudden 5 people came walking down the hill. It was Lynn Green, Marcia Mansfield (the county attorney), Andy Heidt (the ombudsman), David Marshall (also from Human Services) and Sina from Porchlight. It was awful. Lynn Green delivered the following memo:

Per the Memorandum dated November 12, 2012 the Dane County Office of the Corporation County has informed campers that you are not authorized in Lake View Park, your tents have been erected at a park without a permit, and you are in violation of several County Ordinances. You were requested to vacate by Noon today, Tuesday, November 13th.

In an effort to assist you with this evacuation, Dane County is offering the following assistance:
– Van transportation will be available for campers until 4:30 pm today for anyone who needs a ride to shelter in Dane County.
– Dane County will provide safe storage of any possession that campers currently have on the Lake View Park campsite until 1-1-13 or until the owner requests the return of their property, whichever comes first.
– For people currently camped on the Lake View Park site, Dane County will provide shelter fo overnights unless a person has been banned by Dane County shelter providers. The duration of this shelter arrangement will be determined on a person by person basis.
– For people currenlty camped on the Lake View Park site, Dane County is offering assistance in locating overnight sheltering and treatment services, as appropriate.

Sadly, they couldn’t answer any questions – the camp erupted with people yelling at each other. Including the folks who I would have expected to be professional. It was a disaster. They essentially said that they couldn’t guarantee people would have shelter for the winter if they left. They said they would bend the rules but it wasn’t clear what that commitment was and they eventually broke down trying to help people who are banned but they want to force them into treatment facilities. And others just won’t go back to the bed bug infested homeless shelter – even tho they say that there are not bed bugs. At one point, Green said that if they didn’t go to the bed bug infested shelter, then they were refusing shelter and she would tell the press that. That further upset the group. The Mansfield jumped in and just made thing worse. At one point she had a side conversation (well, it was a mess of side conversations) with me and said that the fire was illegal. I told her everything we are doing is illegal, we know that. She said I would be the one to get the ticket for that, I told her that is what I expected. I don’t think she liked that answer. Anyways, I tried talking to Heidt, asking how we can do this better – clearly there was no constructive conversations going on. I also talked to Sina, trying to figure out how we could salvage this mess. Later that evening, I sent Lynn Green, Melissa Sargent, Sina and others this email.

Lynn –

Just wanted to say thanks for your efforts today. I’m really bummed that we can’t have a better facilitated discussion – clearly everyone getting upset and yelling at each other is getting us no where. I think we all need to take a step back, try to build some relationships and listen to each other. I know the people camping on the hill have an inherent mistrust for people providing services and they are cynical about anything having to do with Porchlight. I’ve been working with them to try to get them to trust that the day center will be different with different staff with different attitudes and I think I have been successful in that – and I’m trying to get them to trust Sina, but that takes time. I barely know Sina. A few visits isn’t going to be enough to have them agreeing to services that they are so cynical about. Especially after what happened this summer with Stephanie.

I didn’t mean to be unappreciative of your efforts today, I was just trying to work through how it would work. XXXXXXX was brave enough to be the guinea pig and go to shelter tonight. She didn’t pack up her tent or belongings because she didn’t trust that it would work out. She called to say she got in, but only for a week. And I think she has legitimate concerns about having her stuff stored away on the Northside of town, where she has to find bus tickets to get to and then she would have to walk up that hill and I’m not sure if you noticed, she has problems with her knee and struggles to walk long distances. That doesn’t seem like a tenable situation for her.

People are understandably skeptical of agreeing to pack up their things and go to shelter if they can’t be guaranteed that in a week they won’t be back in the same situation. And you, understandably can’t guarantee anything. Plus, people feel really bad about being offered something that others don’t have access to. So, it seems we are kind of at an impasse and I’m wondering if there is anything we can do about that. I think that saying they are refusing services is quite unfair to them. I think that sitting down with people individually, without so many other people around might help. People might be more willing to share information and explain what their concerns are and perhaps we can address them one by one, let them be heard – instead of lighting a fire and tossing it into the mob. We’re not going to get anywhere in public meetings if we are trying to get individuals, with their own stories, into services. However, I do think that a public meeting where you answer general questions and let them know what to expect would be useful at some point. But you have to be willing to listen to the concerns of people and try to address those concerns.

I’m not sure if any of this helps, but I know the way we left things today isn’t good. I think people would be willing to set up appointments and talk with folks, but its going to be a process. Trust won’t be developed over night. And sadly, I think today set us back quite a bit.

I sensed that Green was really trying to help – but it didn’t help at all having the the county attorney there threatening people that they had to leave. At one point, one of them told me that I had to start thinking about plan B. I told them there is none. THERE IS NO LEGAL PLACE TO GO!!!! NONE!!! WHAT PART OF THAT DON’T YOU UNDERSTAND!!!!
Sigh. Really, plan B? We’re already on plan D, with about 30 other options explored and discarded.

VISIT FROM THE PARKS DEPARTMENT
After things calmed down, Kevin Connors and another parks guy who’s name I forgot (he was at the meeting at the campgorund when they laid down the rules) came to visit. They asked if progress was being made. I told him 3 people left camp. He said that was progress and they expected to keep seeing progress. He also gave me grief about the fire. I explained I had sent him a request for a permit, he told me there was an email glitch and it just got there earlier in the day. Wasn’t clear if he was going to allow it or not. But we can’t have people out there without a fire given how cold it is. They left saying, “everything remains the same”. I’m guessing that means that we still need to leave and they can still give us tickets.

CAMP MEETING
Last night, we recapped the day. People seem resolved to stay – they just aren’t going to go through yet another move. I didn’t even bother trying to get anyone to sign the sheets since the services offered don’t seem sincere. And we talked about what plan E might be . . . but we have so few options, but more things to explore . . . let us know if you know of any property zoned conservancy that the owner would be willing to apply for a campground permit – preferably on a bus line with some services near by.

SCREW YOU
Ok, I’m a little pissed off. I keep hearing, and so do the people at camp, that they are just my political pawns. Here’s my facebook post from last night, after a 12 hour volunteer day.

Trying to figure out what people think I am getting out of being an advocate for my unhoused friends when they say that the people living on Lake View Hill are my pawns for political purposes? Last I checked I may have gotten another day less for a real vacation, some frozen toes and an empty tank of gas. How am I benefiting from that?

Well, given the discussion that ensued, I’m not too worried about the folks saying that any more. But its disturbing to have my friends telling me that they are worried about what they are hearing and feeling like it needs to be addressed. They’re just worried about me and I appreciate that.

What makes me laugh is what the hell would my political motivations be? We clearly are all over the place in strategy – its awful political strategy, is purely survival at this point and the group makes the decisions, so the decisions are hopefully well informed but not always consistent with previous decisions, as democratic processes can be . . . there is no play book or campaign strategy here – its purely flying by the seat of our pants and making the best of a bad situation.

TODAY?
Who knows what is going to happen. But a police officer will be stopping out today to talk with folks – apparently there are “jurisdictional issues”. Melissa Sargent is also visiting us today. And who knows what else might happen!


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