Alder Gary Halverson
210 Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd
Madison, WI 53703
Phone: (608) 266-4071
Fax: (608) 267-8669
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Alder Halverson’s Updates
Camping at Reindahl Park is Not a Long-Term Solution
The City of Madison must do everything in its power to end homelessness. The current debate about homeless encampments at Reindahl Park requires both thoughtful public discourse as well as an honest reflection of how we got to this point.
Allowing Temporary Permissible Encampments (TPEs) was a temporary response to the pandemic, not a long term solution. Let's revisit how we got there.
In 2020, as the pandemic unfolded, the city acted quickly and followed CDC guidelines allowing TPEs so that individuals experiencing homelessness could practice social distancing. In addition, the city also established temporary emergency shelters that enabled adherence to the CDC guidelines. City staff also worked with Public Health Madison & Dane County to ensure vaccine access to individuals experiencing homelessness.
As we started to come out of the pandemic, in May of this year, the TPE at Reindahl Park was revoked as planned and the process of vacating the park started. Many in our city opposed this move. At the May 18th City Council meeting, another Alder introduced a resolution to authorize TPEs (Legistar 65316) on an ongoing basis.
Although well meaning, this resolution was legally flawed as noted by the city attorney. I attempted to refer this resolution to Board of Health, Plan Commission, and Board of Parks Commissioners. However, the Mayor would not acknowledge my referral. In the end, there was another referral that included an amendment to prohibit the removal of individuals camping at Reindahl park. I believe the intent was to allow the few remaining individuals to remain, not to encourage more to come back. Sadly, that has not happened.
As of the writing of this update, there are now several dozen individuals camping at Reindahl Park. Since all public health emergency orders have been lifted and the city attorney has issued a memo stating that there is no legal ground to create new TPE, that means existing ordinances are in effect and camping in city parks is not permitted.
As the elected representative for the constituents of District 17, it is my responsibility to bring their voices forward. District 17 has a long history of helping individuals experiencing homelessness. For several years, many of our hotels have made provisions to accept hundreds of people. This was especially important during the outbreak of the pandemic. Some of our hotels provided a housing option for those who tested positive for COVID-19. We also have many different service providers that operate community housing options for individuals experiencing homelessness. Our district has been very supportive of the needs of these individuals, so to imply that my district is full of "NIMBY" people is patently false.
As the encampment at Reindahl Park continues to rapidly expand, we are seeing an increase in unacceptable behavior. This is not to cast a blanket statement across all individuals encamped at the park, but rather to highlight the reality of the actions of some. The parks department has a detailed behavior policy to ensure that all members of our community can freely enjoy the park. We should expect that all users of the park would abide by these policies.
I want to reiterate what I believe is our primary goal which is to end homelessness and that we should pursue options that move individuals who are experiencing homelessness, but are unable to utilize our current shelter options, into permanent housing options.
The reasons to oppose permanent outdoor encampments are many and include:
- The lack of personal safety (three deaths have already occurred at Reindahl park)
- The lack of security for personal belongings
- The inability to ensure adequate personal hygiene needs
- The use of fire pits for food prep and heat poses a significant threat to personal safety should a fire break out
- The fact that we live in a part of the world with some of the worst weather for outdoor living.
Any action we take that does not have a path toward permanent housing will only divert attention away from that goal and continue to put our homeless population at greater risk. I am urging my council colleagues to work diligently with me to pursue options that work toward ending homelessness and set individuals on a path toward permanent housing.
Let's a have an honest and open public policy debate on how to end homelessness in Madison, but let's start with an honest reflection on why outdoor camping in our city parks makes absolutely no sense.
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