Alder Brian Benford
210 Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd
Madison, WI 53703
Phone: (608) 266-4071
Fax: (608) 267-8669
WI Relay Service
Alder Benford’s Updates
Warning-you might come across new ways of thinking!
Hello Friends and Neighbors
Starting with the foundation that we all care about houseless people. People that are someone's children, mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, uncles, aunts, cousins, grandparents or at times, maybe even us. As a backdrop, we are burden with the reality that most of us feel uncomfortable with interacting with houseless people because of society's and our own deep seeded biases. I had said it before, I wonder if folks feel discomfort over their own privileges, or houseless people remind us of our own potentials to fall on hard times. While it has not been implicitly stated or desired, many of our discussions and actions give the impression that an out of sight, out of mind approached has taken precedent.
You might have been following the City's efforts around finding a permanent, purposely built homeless shelter to address some of the suffering that houseless men are experiencing. You have no doubt read about houseless encampments in our parks, in particular Reindahl. I have voiced my deepest frustrations that at my first common council meeting, we did not have the political will to purchase the old Gander Mountain/Savers building on Zeier Road. Much of the opposition stated that it was the wrong location. Perhaps, to cloak their own, open opposition to seeing houseless men, many claimed that they were concerned that Zeier Rd. was too far from the Beacon (where homeless services are provided). Folks fretted that consumers using the shelter had long bus rides to services and jobs. I heard worries that the building would be too large and we would be warehousing people; creating dangerous situations.
Speaking of dangerous situations, today (as there have been for years) there are vulnerable houseless people sleeping in our parks. Tonight, some are sleeping in a tick infested, swampy Starkweather Creek greenspace. Rightfully, during the worse public health crisis in our history, we allowed tent encampments with the attempts of slowing Covid-19 and to provide safety for those that because of a myriad of reasons, could not bring themselves to enter a shelter. Despite valiant efforts by housing activists, service providers and advocates, people died in our parks last winter, including one in my backyard at McPike Park.
In my observations, I think that we are going about it all wrong in developing humane, compassionate solutions to providing safety and dignity for our houseless neighbors. Conventional wisdom might suggest that we need a large, purpose built shelter because of our daily growing houseless populations. Yes, I concede that having the opportunity to sleep in a building is a far cry better than sleeping outdoors during our brutal winters for most of us. If we were to take the time to talk with the men lined up waiting to get into the First Street shelter, and asked them if they would rather enter a shelter, or would they rather have their own, safe, secure place to begin their transition to healing. Almost all would want their own spaces that did not require them to leave early in the morning; a place where they could lock up their possessions; a place to join community.
At a fraction of the cost to build a large shelter, we could invest our energies, resources and time to pursuing more Tiny Homes villages. These villages could address the need for shelter and put people on the paths to reaching their full potentials. If we have courageous leadership, we could draw on the model and consultation offered by Occupy Madison. Occupy Madison has planted a seed that gives us the roots to build on to finding sustainable solutions to serving our houseless neighbors. Villages with a built-in intensive collaboration of key service providers will ensure that people are best served. I suggest that we support the formation of numerous, beautifully designed Tiny Home villages that are spread over the city. Truth be told, the City and County could build over 100 huts in time for this winter to address much of the encampment issue and began laying the groundwork for future villages.
We all know that completely ending homelessness within our society might seem impossible. No municipality in the United States has. Homelessness is a multi-layered issue that requires thinking outside of the box. It calls for us to build humane temporary housing options and seek sustainable ways to create long-term single residency occupancy units and more subsidize income based rentals and housing. It goes without saying that no matter where or what we build to support houseless people, many desperate and vulnerable people will always migrate to where they witness disposable spending-like the malls, State Street or the Willy St. Coop in my neighborhood to ask for money. It is beyond time that we give respect, dignity and safety for those suffering from homelessness. I believe Tiny Home Villages can make Madison a national model and signal to the world that we in Madison believes in everybody's rights to housing and good health.
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