It was unanimous, with the conservatives leading the way! Wiggy was phenomenal – meaning he really understands what is going on at Token Creek and articulated it well. Such a bizarro world.
EANR is the County Environment, Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee. The members are Chair: Patrick Downing, Vice chair: Melanie Hampton, Secretary: Carl Chenoweth, Members: Ronn Ferrell Leland Pan. The resolution was introduced by David Wiganowski and was to let people stay at Token Creek til May 1st. The catch is that this is just a “request” and the staff and can make this decisions without the county board and the Parks Commission is likely to refuse to put this on their agenda.
Brenda Konkel – (Awkward and weird) – Thanks Wiganowski for introducing the resolution. Thanks Ronn Ferrell for coming out and camping over night with the group to try to better understand the issues.
Downing interrupts and asks for a brief introduction of myself and my background.
My name is Brenda Konkel, I have been helping some of the folks camping at Token Creek. They are basically friends of mine, I am also a member of Occupy Madison but I am not speaking for them, especially given what I am about to say. I really am sincerely thankful for the resolution and for having the first real discussion about this. To me, and this is my own personal opinion, I want to make that really clear, I don’t like this solution. But there are also no good answers and I don’t have a better answer, but this is the only answer that is legal. It is the best answer there is, but I don’t like it. We have had this problem for the last year and a half. I really don’t ever want to go to Token Creek again, if I don’t have to. It’s been a nightmare for me, its isolated out there, its dangerous. There is no water, it takes too long for the ambulance to get there, dispatch doesn’t even know where it is when you call, the ice (thank you for the sand and the salt), and the transportation is a nightmare because it is not on a public transportation system. To me that is the worst part. You can’t walk or bike there safely and people can’t get to their jobs – being able to work is not an option out there. I am probably the worst person to talk about this because I am angry and bitter about it. I just don’t like it. But I don’t live there. It’s really a mixed bag, because the people who live there – they have electricity. And electricity is key because you can have a heater in your tent and stay warm. And there is fire. To stay warm. And those are two really key things in Wisconsin in the winter if you have no place to go. I think this is not a great option and I don’t have a better one and for the people staying there this is their best option. People are not here tonight for several reasons. First of all a few people are out there doing flood control. Making sure the tents don’t get flooded after all the melted snow and ice today. Also, many are at a meal at a Sun Prairie Church that comes and picks them up on Monday night. People not being here tonight is not a sign of support or not support of the resolution, I think most people support the resolution because they do not have any other options. Also porta-potties are key out there, because having a place to go to the bathroom without getting a ticket is key because that really isn’t an option for people after the businesses close downtown. I don’t have a better option, this is as good of an option as there is on the table, so I support it, even tho I don’t like it. Other options I have heard of include staying at Lyckburg Park for a month until the campgrounds open. Opening Lake Farm Park early, I know that is not popular either. It was very frustrating to force this group to take this option knowing that they can’t camp out there next winter, even tho it isn’t a good option. But, it may work for some people, there are some people who have vehicles. If there were enough people with vehicles it might be a better option, its just at the moment there are maybe 2 working cars out there. It’s a bad situation all the way around. It’s not good, but having some place legal to be for a month is better than being illegal.
Ronnie Barbett – Came by about the Madison Occupy situation.
Downing interrupts and asks him to introduce himself.
Barbett says he is with the Daytime Warming Center and he is a homeless advocate and he is concerned with homeless issues. He is in support of the extension. It is a good thing, appreciates them thinking about it. They were working on getting a housing opportunity but that fell through. They are struggling but they are working on it. It’s one of the solutions to homelessness. By extending it to May 1st or extending it as long as you can it gives them more time to develop a funding base, increase support, public and private, and give them more time to work out the housing options. They still have meetings and fundraising efforts to work on getting housing, so that is not out of the picture. And basically I came to make sure you are aware of what is going on in the city, the men’s shelter is having an issue starting March 10th, it sort of closes the end of March, beginning of April, its important to remind you that the overcrowding of people around the square is a reality, it will happen in April because as far as he estimates, people will end up around the square which is where they were before Occupy and then there will be more confrontations with police, with tourists, with students, you are looking out for them by providing the day center and Occupy Madison, they were away from the square this winter, and if you were to talk to the police it would reveal that the money you are putting in to these organizations is well spent. And he just wanted to point out the alternative to these places closing and the homeless congregating around the square.
Ed Kuharski – speaking for himself, local architect and advocate and has been using himself various ways since the eviction from E. Washington last April. He appreciates the attempt to respond in some way to the impending crisis, but I agree with Brenda this is a mighty poor solution, the extension of a mighty poor solution. The decision to go to Token Creek was not done by any consultation process and it was mandated by one person and some folks here. It will be a shame for all of history for Madison, I don’t think we have done that since the Japanese were put out in World War II, I think we can do things better, with more interface, more thought. Basically we have one of the best planning departments in the country, this whole episode does not indicate any planning. It was a band-aid. It was a way to put them out of sight, out of mind. To solve a short term, mostly political and social problem. There is a curse around trying to help homeless people. Public officials and folks like you risk being ostracized by the more respectable constituents if you help them. About what it would have been like in Selma in ’52, if a local public elected official were to stand up and say, “No, black people should not be segregated”. Today, homeless people should not be segregated. But what Token Creek has been, what it has represented, is a segregated community for a certain group of homeless people who tried to get together and exercise some power and some dignity, the same as civil rights movement. And now we have a sun down town going on, we have them safely away from residential area and we bus them into town after sun up and we bus them out before sun down and that was called a sundown town and we had them all over the country right up until they were hidden away in the 60s and 70s. Appleton was one of those towns, they had a sign saying you better not be here after sundown. That was how the whole thing was done in those days, it was overt. Having the county do it was kind of troubling to me – that doesn’t speak well to that, we are smarter than that. Please, make a plan that has more than one step to it and start with saying we are going to make it legal for the people who are here and we are not going to make it illegal if they do not have the means to put a roof over their heads. We have to admit we are not capable of putting a roof over their heads under the present circumstances, or we haven’t been willing to do the steps it would take, it wouldn’t take that much, but we have not been willing to do the steps. I hear the careful planning on the digester project, lots of creative planning, good partnerships, creative financing, but I don’t see that same care or engagement, even a small amount of that in dealing with actual human beings. There is a lot of square footage under a roof that is empty and all it would take is to rent that warehouse, that Cub Foods store, and it would be a bridge solution to warm weather that would not harm the people. He is an architect and he concerns himself with public health, welfare and safety and there are serious concerns here about what this solution has been and they haven’t been meeting any requirements of what we would assume for human habitation for anyone. Also think about the fact that the constitution does refer to all, we have a 14th amendment that says we have equal protection under it, and I’m not seeing it. It’s a blind spot we all have, I have it too, we all have been encouraged to have it, we have to own it and we have to step up and have courage to work on it. He invites anyone who has not been into the warming center, quick go before it closes. It is an amazing thing and it gives you an idea of a way out of these problems, it has low cost and high impact and it affirms people’s values and skills and it invites them to be part of the solution to their own problems. It is a wonderful, multi-faceted rehabilitation center and it is life saving for some people. Now that is about health safety and welfare, lets stick to that direction.
Ron Kamin – lives at Token Creek, he’s one of the Occupiers there. He wants to let them know that it is nice that he can have a tent, with a little bit of clothes that he has, deep down inside he would rather have an apartment, a job, he comes into town every day, unfortunately the van picks them up later than he would like to go look for a job, sometimes he has to do his laundry and go take a shower and then you don’t have time for it. But on a day like today where it is rainy in February and its going to be wet and froze and like happened to him a week ago when he woke up with three inches of water in his tent, thank god he was sleeping on a air mattress – he has a really busted up back and if he would have woke up in three inches of water he would have been pissed, but he was actually 6 inches above it, thank god. He had to redo everything, sleeping bag fell in the water, he had a really nice military sleeping bag that is now soaked. He had blankets and other things in there, did up the tent better, it is on a hill now, so the rain washes on down, but on days like this, its nice to have that little bit of something, versus where he used to stay out by Milios subs. I hated that, everyone walking by, drunk, one time I actually got the shit beat out of me, I was laying there and I had the sleeping bag over my face and WHAM!, I woke up with a blow to the face. Drunk college kids. By the time I could get myself out of there to defend myself, they were down the street around the corner, I had a black eye. Lovely. My life. Just grand. But no one out there is going to do that. There have been a few problems, police are right there, luckily I am not one of them, but all in all I like to have that, by the time the extension rolls around, the temperatures will be better, the snow will start to melt. Because the old tent that I have is frozen in the ground. The county guys are going to have to chip it out or dig it out when the snow melts. He doesn’t want to drop it on those guys, he said they talked and they would like to help clean up so they don’t look worse than we already do. We don’t want to dump it off on the parks or county. Its just nice to have a little piece of something that I got. I have a heater, so when my shoes get wet, I can set them in there so they dry.
WIGGY’S EXPLANATION OF HIS SPONSORSHIP
He thanks them for putting it on the agenda (I think it was hard to get scheduled in several committees, but Patrick Downing actually put it on the agenda – so thank you!) He says to catch them up, this situation started at Lake View Hill, a lot of people who are at Token Creek were up on the Northport hill and the word came down from other leadership that they didn’t want them there and they dumped them in Token Creek against their will. I was disappointed at the time that no one even notified me, that is my supervisory district, no one notified the Town of Burke to let them know what was going on. All of a sudden they were out there. So now, a situation that becomes a little more questionable. My emails started popping up, the phone calls started popping up, what’s going on? Are they murderers, are they rapists, are they drunks? All the concerns, so I went out there several times to at least interact with them, see what is going on, be part of the solution. He has taken water out to them, taken electric cords out, electric heaters that he purchased. He actually got a call one time that someone had a car that was stuck and he went out there with a snowplow to plow to get him out. He probably has been out there a dozen times off and on. I’ve seen a lot of different people. I was out there one night when the sheriff was there with about 4 deputies and they get around the camp fire around 7:00 and they talk about rules or regulations and if someone screwed up or didn’t screw up. Or whatever their leadership role is. It is supposed to be by invite, they take care of themselves. I went out there several times and tents were moved around and I asked if there were new people coming and they said no, sometimes people just don’t get along so they move it around. It is not a good situation. It was an awful poor situation when when were taken out there, whoever had that idea wasn’t too smart in my opinion. They just moved the problem from one spot to another, but you got them out of Madison. They Mayor of Madison suggested a Greyhound ticket, but I haven’t seen him come up with any money and I don’t know if they would accept it to start with. When it rains out there, it is a problem. When it snows out there, it is a problem. I believe the county has done an awful lot to try to help this group of people. But I think the situation reminds me a lot of what is going on in Washington, you have Harry Reid saying they will compromise, but we’re not going to get pushed around. You have Boener saying we want to work together but no one is going to tell us what to do. And I think the lack of communication, I hear an awful lot of things going on, I think the county exec is saying this, they are saying that. I can’t elaborate who met when, where and what they did. But I think they are both on the same track headed in opposite directions and no one is communicating. And we pride ourselves at the county as being people who communicate and work with the people who are in need. These people are definitely in need. I believe if you take a lot of them out of there and get them a nice beautiful place to stay and some of them will revert back to the homeless life, that is just the way they are, I believe others want out of there. The reason I came up with this, the situation of May 1st is that I originally called up parks and suggested that they add on a month, I went in and tried to act in good faith to see what we could do. I was told that was not a negotiable item. Now they have offered them a month, I’m glad there has been some movement and people are talking, but March 17th is still a month from open camping season. So either way, we have a problem. Now the county moved them out there with 30 deputies and I think 12 or 14 parks people, I don’t know the exact numbers, but whatever it was, there were a lot to move them out there, I don’t know how this group of people will move on the 17th, or start moving before then, and if they do, where are they going to go? My belief is that they will be placed in a situation that may be a bigger problem. It might be your district, it might be your (points at people), I don’t know, but they are going to go somewhere. They are not going to go away. If you stay until May then they could find money to pay to camp legally, but they can only camp for 2 weeks – it gives them a little warmer weather to move in, its something to do. If we have a solution, I don’t want to see someone get stuck with a bigger problem then we have created. I don’t really want to keep them out there, but I don’t have any better solution at this time. They have a lot of what they call their personal belongings. You and I might call it junk, but it is their life belongings. They might have it in a brown paper sack, or garbage sack, but to them it is something. The tents they are living in I’m not even sure that I would see a boy scout living in them in the summer months. But they do do things, every time I have been out there thye have been gracious about talking with me, some of them shied away right away. When Mahoney was out there, the sheriff, I believe they talked a lot about what they should do if they had a problem. Thursday night when I talked about introducing this resolution Chief Deputy Hook came up and said that you’re not really serious, are you, we have had a lot of police calls out there for drunkenness and fighting. So he looked it up on the internet and he can name a lot of other spots in the city in Madison where they have houses to live in and head and a refrigerator and everything else that has a lot of police calls, more than they actually had. If you look at the conditions they are living under, it is probably appropriate to see where there might be some arguments or fighting problems or whatever it was. What are we going to do if we keep them there? Well, if we leave it extended til May 1st or move it back to April 16th, maybe by then some of the people who help them, could be me or others, might have a place where they can maybe camp. But we pride ourselves in Dane County on planning and working ahead. He has a solution that he thinks – he is not sure anyone is going to like it – but you got em out there, they seem to be dedicated to staying in the park, even in the inclement weather some of them stayed at the park when a church in Sun Prairie was willing to take them. There were still 3 or 4 that stayed there. I don’t know if it is a leadership role or what, but there is always someone who stays there, when the tents got knocked down from the snow and the rain, this group helped set them back up. Its like they were working together or something, one person starts a fire, the others do something else. There might be a leadership role that we are missing out there a bit. But if you really want to do something for these people, one is let them stay there and take them into training a little bit. They could clean up a little bit, they would be great wardens for the parks. How many parks do we have in Dane County? Lets say we have 15 or 20 our there. If you really want to get them something, we take them in, we give them a little bit of training and we have a lot of LTEs in the parks department in the summer. WE take in university students, these people don’t have a job, don’t have a trade, this is our chance to do something for them. It’s just a thought they came up with, someone said you have to have an idea, for the time being it is the only one he came up with. It’d be some training, there would be a little bit of work with them. He is sure that if they gave them some guidance they would be great people to work in the parks. Every summer we hire someone to welcome people to Token Creek, to tell them the rules and regulations. They have tents already, they are looking for work, they are familiar with the park, maybe there is a thought. We’re looking for solutions, not ultimatums. I believe what the County Execs office did was offer them that extra month, and it is nice that the did that, but it is an ultimatum. It says you can’t do this, you can’t do this. To me we are not looking at the solution, we are looking at an ultimatum. From what he has seen out there, and it varies, but anywhere from 4 people to 34 people out there, only 13 agreed to the potential move. It is not saying everyone is going to move. Or, from what he has seen, if they give you their word, they are going to try to do that. But if they don’t have transportation and no place to go that isn’t illegal again, then what have we done. They might just stay there. We all go home to our warm homes and a nice meal at the kitchen table while they are crawling in their tents trying to stay warm. It is not a good situation. Its not going to be and I don’t think they should be there forever, but until we have a plan in place, my god, lets do something. They are not criminals, they are homeless and that’s not a good thing. Some may never get a job. The county did supply transportation, they come out at 9:30 with the Porchlight van, I’m told that costs $276 a week to drive them into the warming center in the daytime, and drive them back out at 4:30 at night. I always kinda thought that was ass backwards. They need to be someplace at night when it is warm and vice versa in the daytime. For whatever reasons, people won’t to to Grace Church or whatever else, some are infested with bed bugs, some are dirty, some have been in trouble and are not accepted into the shelters unless its an extreme situation. Other places like the Salvation Army don’t have room. We’re over populated with a bunch of homeless population. This is just a small portion of the group of people that are out there. Now maybe if they haul them out and move them to Madison they can set up tents around the square – please don’t move one problem to another situation and create the same problems you created for the Town of Burke. I’m not sure where they want to go or if they have a place they can go, but to say March 17th you are out of there, is not the answer. Lets train them, make them stewards of the park, maybe ship them around to other parks. At least we can do a little training and they have something to work on – its somewhere to start and maybe make a few dollars. Maybe they help keep the campgrounds cleaned up, maybe they are fire wardens. At least it is one idea, its maybe not the answer. But since you said Mr. Chairman, do you have an idea, that is all I came up with. That might work, at least it is some training we could do right here and we could start the interview process right now to see who might qualify for that and who might not. With that, I hope you would at least consider forwarding it on to the next committee. I am told that Parks is going to turn a blind eye, they don’t want to even want to look at it. They are going to pretend it doesn’t exist and hope it will go away. In the time he introduced it, he hopes not, he hopes they vote it up or vote it down instead of pretending it don’t exist. It’s there, its going to create a problem if we move it to another location. It created a problem for us in the Town of Burke, but most of the residents now when they call me and I go out there and communicate with the group and they have settled down, with the exception of the truck stop, when I went down there I should have taken ear plugs, because they are not pleased whatsoever with that group of people. One supervisor and a retired supervisor went out there and spent a night with the group to see what was going on. I’m not sure what the nature of the police calls were other than fighting and drinking. And I was told that they were disappointed with the group that takes stuff out to the people because they have been taking beer out (damn, where’s my beer! who the hell is doing this? Actually, I hear it is the Porchlight van . . . ahem) I can assure you, that’s my profit margin, so I’m not giving the beer away to them out there, but I have taken them water, food, electrical cords, they do have the Bucky toilets out there, one contract might have went to hell, but we got another set of Bucky toilets out there, and they worked on it. There does seem to be a little bit of a leadership role out there. Whether someone talks about putting tents out there or not. But if you go out there and look out there today, it is an interesting situation cuz water does flow down hill and the creek is right there, downstream of them. They are out there tonight working to keep it up, I asked them if they needed anything and they said surely not water tonight. Please think about them being stewards for the campgrounds, LTEs for the parks, rather than handpicking a university student. These people are in need, lets try to work with them.
PART II COMING
I’ll let all that sink in and part II is coming . . . I didn’t blog this at the meeting, audio taped it, so it takes longer to do . . . they did vote unanimously to let the Occupiers stay til May 1 – but you should hear the machinations on how they got there – it wasn’t really support from everyone – just lack of a better answer. And probably knowing that it doesn’t matter what they say anyway because the Parks people won’t take it up and its only advisory.
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