Wow. Occupy Madison found a piece of private property to move to, notified affected staff and elected officials, talked to the neighbors, did everything we were told to do, and now a week before we are to move, the property owner is being threatened with $11,460 in fines if we move there. I’ve been saying it for a while, but . . . there is NO LEGAL PLACE TO GO!
Wondering if it were boyscouts if it would be different . . .
Sent: Thursday, March 07, 2013 10:29 AM
Subject: Homeless Persons Camping at 3600 Portage Road
Mr. Vang- I have been advised that you have chosen to allow the “Occupy” campers, currently at Token Creek Park, to locate onto your property at 3600 Portage Road on or about March 17th. Please note, Per sec. 28.091(1) of the Madison Zoning Ordinance, camping is not an allowed use of this property.
If you allow the campers to locate on your property, the City will be issuing you municipal citations for each day the camping activity is occurring on the site. The daily citation amounts are $177 1st , $303 2nd, $366 3rd and each day thereafter.
Please also note, there may be additional zoning violations, including but not limited to zoning code regulations relative to the floodplain and wetland environmental condition that encumber the property.
Let me now if you have any questions.
I’m thinking it is lawsuit time. We are being selectively prosecuted. There are two other campgrounds operating in the City of Madison and they are not being fined daily. Well, one will open April 16th, the other is in operation now. I spent a lot of time last night looking at the zoning code and maps. The staff told me that the one is illegal (but I don’t think they have done anything about it) and the other is an “accessory use” but that is not a permitted “accessory use” in the code. Additionally, that parcel seems to be zoned separately (It’s zoned PR and the rest is CN), so I don’t know what it is accessory to. And, they were listing tons of examples of where people camped without a permit (carnivals, etc) But they didn’t threaten them with daily fines. Sorry, wonked out there . . .
WHAT’S GOING ON, HOW’D THIS HAPPEN?
We were out of answers when we got forcibly removed from Lake View Hill, costing the county over $11,000 and exposing the absurdity of their actions. People took a time out, (literally) cooled their heels at Token Creek for the winter (11/20/12 – 3/17/13) and meanwhile we tried to buy a building so people could be inside, but that was thwarted too. So, we found some private land to camp on for a month until the campgrounds open again April 16th, and we thought we’d be ok for 30 days, but it turns out, there is no legal place to camp in the City of Madison. The concept doesn’t even appear in the zoning code. What makes this even more grave is that we have a 2.07% vacancy rate, there are only 1094 apartments available in Cross Plains, Madison, Middleton and Fitchburg – out of 52,698. Given that on January 31st there were 831 homeless persons in Madison, 484 households, once you factor in affordability, size of apartment and other issues with landlord screening under the new laws (thanks to our state legislature) and lack of housing history, and the fact that the homeless count is severely under-counted because people didn’t want to tell the city where people were camping or staying or because they didn’t meet the right definition of being homeless, there really are not apartments even available for these folks. Waiting lists for most agencies are 4 months – 3 years. Camping is the only option once they are out of (30 – 90) days of shelter per year, if they are eligible for shelter at all. 150 men will be done with their 60 days on March 10th. Now what? What are the answers? Where do 150 homeless men go?
WE TRIED REALLY HARD
NOTHING IS LEGAL. We have looked at probably 100s of options at this point, followed so many dead ends I can’t count them. There is no legal place to camp, to sleep, to exist. We would buy land if we could figure it out. We would install water and electricity and other facilities. I told the county board that, hoping they might have some unused property somewhere on a bus line. We would prefer a building, but we have looked at tons of real estate and there are limited options there too – in our price range and zoning and building code standards and on a bus line and that we can get a loan for. We have appealed to the elected officials to help us. We have testified at countless meetings. We have tried to educate the public about the on-going issues. We have enlisted the help of probably 100s of volunteers, 1000s of hours of volunteer time. And yet, we are spinning our wheels . . . stuck like a car in a winter snowstorm . . . we need push in the right direction. Anyone?
WE TRIED TO DO THE RIGHT THING
When looking at the Portage Rd. property, we tried to do the right thing. We did everything we were asked. We found private property, not public. It’s not city OR county property so we don’t have to deal with the being pushed around between the two entities. We talked with the police (just so they had a heads up), the fire department (to make sure we were in compliance with fire codes and could have a fire legally), the zoning administrator (we tried to be legal, there is nothing we can do), the public health department (they do camping permits), the streets department (for trash cans). We worked it out so that we would meet all the requirements for a camping permit (porta-potties, water, trash removal, wastewater removal), but there is no zoning allowed, even on a piece of property that is zoned Agriculture – so without zoning, there is no camping permit. I mean seriously, if you can’t camp there, where can you camp? Anyways, we notified the alder and county board supervisor and mayor. We notified the neighbors – dropping off letters, knocking on their doors and talking with them was a very positive experience as opposed to some other neighborhoods, they welcomed us.
JUST GO AWAY
I know people just want this problem to go away, but its not, there was a 45% increase in homelessness in the last two years. It’s not going away. We have to “deal with” this “problem”. Jobs, housing, showers, a place to put your things 24/7, portapotties – its all illusive, inconvenient, on the other side of town – and transportation is so difficult. The people I know spend so much time being homeless and trying to survive that there is so little time left over in the day. It’s exhausting. Just finding three meals a day can be a chore – again, the transportation is the issue, not the availability of meals.
I actually think this is a bit of unfortunate timing – but tonight at 5:00 there is a rally at the city-county building to raise awareness of homeless issues – March Madness – when all the services stop. 150 men on the streets because their 60 days are up, Token Creek eviction, day center closing til next fall . . . and now this. People are angry.
WHAT CAN BE DONE
Well, here’s a random list of things . . . some simple, some not. Some cost money, some don’t. I’m sure I missed many more . . .
- lockers with 24/7 accessibility so people can’t put their things there for job interviews, to go to jobs on any shift, to just lighten the load and not feel homeless
- portpotties, especially for evening hours and to stop upsetting the downtown business owners
- showers, again, not just once or twice a week for 3 hours a day across town, but some regular access to accommodate the needs of those who have differing schedules
- homeless bus passes
- if there is room in the shelter, why can’t people who have used up their days can still stay if there are openings
- 24 hour shelter
- exceptions to 60 day limits for medical reasons – medical vouchers for more than 2 or 3 days
- if out of days people should still have access to nurses, services, etc at that are provided at the shelters – you need to sign in to use those services and if you are out of days you can’t sign in
- make plans for cooling shelter now, set policy for where it will be and when it will be opened now, not at the last minute
- written policies for shelters posted on websites of agencies so everyone can see what they are
- written explanations of all bans and suspensions from shelter
- not throwing away items found on government property for 90 days regardless of value, post signs with information when property is taken, have one number to call or one place to go to find your belongings
- no ticketing for sleeping outside where there are no other options
- opening date for day center by September 1 or firm commitment of when it will open (they’ve had 5 months to find a place, why will it take another 10 months) and alternative place(s) for people to go during the day when it is raining/hot/extreme weather until then
- look at empty buildings around the city to see if suitable for people to stay there
- place for people with pets to stay with their pets
- places for couples to stay together
It’s exhausting trying to figure out a legal way for people to be homeless if the current services aren’t available to meet their needs . . . because they aren’t. Because we haven’t been funding the services and giving them cost of living increases for years – and we haven’t funded them for the increase in needs with this stupid economy. Maybe the answer is simple, a 45% increase in funding? But then again, people need apartments to move in to, and they simply are not available . . . but you can sign up to be on a waiting list and hope that they can contact/find you when you reach the top . . . in 4 months to 3 years.
Ask the elected officials what their solutions are, please. Go elsewhere is not a solution.
Better yet, send a separate email to them all – with your address so they know you are a constituent.
Hope to see you at the rally.
Categories: | Dane | Madison | Media