Alder Brian Benford
210 Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd
Madison, WI 53703
Phone: (608) 266-4071
Fax: (608) 267-8669
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Alder Benford’s Updates
If you have time...
Hello Friends and Neighbors
I hope that you and all are well and finding joy. Working for you, I wanted to share what I have been doing this week. I am writing this after a couple hours of sleep after a long emotional Common Council (CC) meeting last night. We met until almost 4:30a this morning,
Please indulge me as I share my very own perspectives. Forgive me if this update is too long, but I really want you to know what I am doing on behalf of District 6 and Madison.
As with any given CC or committee meeting, https://www.cityofmadison.com/city-hall/committees/meeting-schedule, alders take up the task of considering resolutions and listening to public testimony. Last night there were three hot issues on an agenda. Alpha Chi Sigma appealing to reverse a Plan Commission decision to demolish two old houses on Lake Court to build a new building, using TIF funds to support the Urban League of Greater Madison's new Black Economic Hub's desire for a parking structure and our houseless neighbors sleeping in city parks
As someone who has spent 30 years advocating on behalf of our most vulnerable neighbors, you can imagine which of the three issues that weighed most heavily on my mind. First, I want to say thanks to all the speakers in support of our houseless neighbors for bringing words of love, compassion, empathy. In these uncertain, and often dark times. These advocates for our houseless neighbors provide me hope by their good deeds and commitment to others.
I imagine that most of us have experienced the most difficult 15 months of our lives because of Covid-19, and for some in our community, even more so because racial inequities and social injustices have only been amplified. I cannot begin to imagine what life has been like for our neighbors who for a myriad of reasons are forced or choose to sleep outside. As I write this in the comfort of my home, I wonder if any of us imagine this reality unless you have lived experiences. Because of my work, I often build intentional time to reflect on my privileges. I wonder how many of us do the same.
I am in mourning for what this city has always been for our BIPOC and other marginalized neighbors. After the crushing reality that we did not have the political will as a city to secure a permanent shelter at our last meeting, I have been grieving for what we have become. I don't say this because I am trying to elicit guilt or to assign blame. Instead, I use this to forge my determination to bring us together to create a safe, equitable and socially just Madison. Deep in my heart I believe that Madison needs to engage in a collective truth and reconciliation process in order to address inequities within our city.
I say this because, before we can begin addressing issues around our houseless neighbors, we have to begin with the truth that there are many within our community that do not want to see- or heaven forbid-interact with houseless people-especially men. Out of sight out of mind, blinded by our own privileges. Long before the pandemic, there has been a decade's long assault on our houseless neighbors in Madison. In this city that continuously garners national accolades, we have either ignored or attempted hide away our houseless neighbors. Maybe it's our attempt to not feel bad about our privilege- or for some of us –keeping up the illusion that Madison is a fun, progressive, welcoming, wonderful place to raise kids, ride bikes, and get your dog massaged.
I have learned that you can't legislate empathy nor compassion, but what I must alwaysdo is to fight for those that are most vulnerable, as demanded by my service as an advocate and alder. I write this knowing that no city has totally solved the issues of providing, safe, supportive housing for all in need. While there are models around the country to explore, no one person or city has eliminated housing insecurity and homelessness. In the midst of the worse public health emergency in our lives, following CDC recommendations, we created temporary tent encampments (TPE) with the hopes of preventing the spread of Covid-19 and deaths from this insidious disease. Many of you are familiar with the TPE in McPike Park. I hope that most of us realize that people have been sleeping outside, in many of our parks, under bridges, underpasses and other outdoor settings for years.
Last night we considered an amendment that would allow for our neighbors at Reindahl Park (many came there after McPike closed) to stay in place until the city could find better option. In my line of work, I subscribe to the notion that the cure cannot be worse than the disease. Some in the city have attempted to relocate these marginalized neighbors to a greenway at Starkweather Creek. Repeatedly moving folks around only serves to add inhumane trauma. Remember-in order to begin to heal we need to be truthful. The Starkweather site put lives at risk from Lyme's disease because this setting is tick infested, and we tempt fate with West Nile virus from mosquitos by putting vulnerable people in wetlands that in any other context might be beautiful.
At the end, we found out from the city attorney that this resolution, that we believed would put us on a path to not only support our houseless neighbors now, but could also serve to lay the foundation for more sustainable, humane and compassionate ways to address TPEs in the future, might be a legal liability. So once again-our forgotten neighbors' rights for dignity, respect and safety are kicked down the road. I hope that this note might inspire any of you who might want to work on this issue with me to contact me. Only together, can we make Madison a home to all.
Sending you all my best wishes and care
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