Chief Koval's Blog

Overview of the Multi-Dimensional Concerns for the Homeless Population in Madison

February 17, 2015 9:52 AM

As I begin my 5th year as the Captain of the Central District and my twenty-sixth year with the department, I have reflected upon the integral role this district has played in my career at the Madison Police Department. The Central Police District lies between Lake Mendota and Lake Monona. The southern border is Regent Street; Breese Terrace is the western border and First Street to Milwaukee Street round out the north and eastern parts of the district. Although Central is the smallest of the five districts, it routinely has one of the higher incident call volumes in the City.

What makes the Central District unique is the ever changing landscape of those who live and work here.  State and municipal government buildings, UW Campus, the vibrant entertainment district and those that call Central District home are intricately woven together to create a complex tapestry of business, relaxation and life.  The landscape has dramatically changed as the UW Campus has expanded, and many old stock homes have been replaced by high rise housing units.  There are exciting developments along the E. Washington corridor as well as the State/Frances Street area.

For all of the positive changes that have occurred, there is one issue in particular we continue to struggle with; the homeless and transient population.

The homeless and transient issues are not new, but rather, ever changing. In 2011, there was a significant change when the Capitol closed the basement cafeteria to the public.  A short time later, the public library closed for construction. At the same time, we saw the Occupy movement come to Madison. The encampment in the parking lot of 800 East Washington Avenue soon became complicated as the first of the temporary warming shelters moved in next door.

Talks began in earnest among service providers and leaders within City and County government to work on solutions. A second temporary winter warming shelter was established in the 800 block of East Washington Avenue the following year. It was well managed under the direction of Shine 608. However, as we struggle through another winter, the dreams of a permanent daytime shelter have yet to become reality. Community resources are strained as they attempt to serve more people than the current facilities can handle. Public and private spaces are challenged by people looking for a safe place to survive the weather.

A day shelter will not be the solution to homeless issues, but an option for those seeking stability. A day shelter can provide a safe place to store belongings, shower, do laundry and connect with resources. There is a benefit of having everything under one roof with the ultimate goal of getting those housing who need and want it.

Efforts to collaborate and cooperate with various providers and outreach groups are ongoing and many of those seeking assistance have benefited from these collective efforts.  However, some individuals, for a variety of reasons, have declined resources.  There are also instances where individuals have engaged in conduct prohibited by law.   While it is not the option of first resort to deal with chronic offenders by use of enforcement strategies, sometimes it is the only consequential means of dealing with unlawful behaviors which coincide and conflict with the rights of others.  The City County Building is a prime example.

Officers are routinely called to assist with trespass issues, disturbances and to mediate disagreements among those who make the building and its curtilage their "home".  Officers investigate and help solve many issues – although there is one glaring issue they can't fix:  the large pile of "belongings" stacked against the front of the City County Building. The Chief's office has received numerous complaints that the various items stacked outside can make entering or exiting the building a challenge at times.  We have typically resolved these issues amicably and without incident.  As to the complaints of these belongings being an "eyesore" or merely abandoned property – these items are someone's property.  They have value and cannot be unilaterally seized and disposed of.

In order to deal with those who are encamped outside of the building with all of their personal effects in tow, there needs to be someone who has the legal standing to complain.  To date, officer's hands are tied as the City County Building is managed by Dane County, and no one with the authority to do so will provide the basis to initiate a complaint.  Until an agent of Dane County steps up, the front of the City County Building will remain in a holding pattern.

Despite the many challenges, central district officers and command staff continue to problem solve with many community groups to assist those who don't have the resources to help themselves.  The Luke House, the Social Justice Center, Grace Episcopal Church, Porchlight, Bethel Lutheran, Salvation Army, YWCA, the Central Public Library, Saint Vincent DePaul, along with many other have offered assistance, advice and support to the homeless and transient population.

Only through these collaborative efforts will the City of Madison effectively engender change with respect to how the homeless and transient populations are viewed and treated.

 

This blog was authored by Captain Carl Gloede and Lieutenant Jennifer Krueger Favour.

Posted by: Chief Koval

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