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Update on Reindahl Park

May 14, 2021 3:31 PM

Reindahl Park was designated as a Temporary Permissible Encampments (TPE) by executive order in the early days of the pandemic when crowded conditions of homeless shelters in church basements endangered the vulnerable. The City and County partnered to put families and vulnerable individuals in hotels under federal criteria, to shelter homeless men temporarily in the Warner Park Community Recreation Center (WPCRC) and provide portable toilets, handwashing stations, and trash services at a small number of TPEs.  The Parks Division directly supported this work.  
 
From its inception, the City's executive order provided for the revocation of TPEs when "the users of a TPE engage in illegal and/or unsafe behaviors or continued use of the TPE is deemed disruptive to neighboring residents or otherwise makes the area unavailable or unsafe for its intended public uses."  Each of these reasons for revocation are present at Reindahl Park.  Encampments of this scale and intended park use at this park do not coexist without significant strain on park resources, which create a significant barrier to the wider community's ability to safely use the space.  Effective May 10, 2021, Reindahl Park is no longer a permitted TPE and campers are now in violation of Madison General Ordinances 8.265, which prohibits Lodging in Parks. 
 
I have concerns that continued encampments at Reindahl will interfere with planned programming at this critical community park– affecting use of the park shelter, athletic facilities, splash park, and community gardens.  There are many activities planned for the summer including family gatherings at the shelter, youth athletic reservations, and day camps for children.  The summer of 2021 is going to be quite different than the summer of 2020. The vaccination rate in Dane County is the highest in the state and consequently Public Health has rapidly loosened restrictions to permit many more activities. The CDC is also moving rapidly to change guidance.  The Parks Division is doing everything it can to prepare for a return of significantly more scheduled events, while anticipating that the increased non-scheduled utilization of parks will continue in 2021 as well.  Reindahl Park is critical to equitably meeting the park needs of our community.   
 
The City has worked to provide alternatives and has allocated significant resources to support those experiencing homelessness throughout the pandemic. This includes significant resources originally allocated for park services.  Last fall, the City spent $300,000 to turn the 37,000 foot First Street garage into a spacious and well-ventilated shelter. Currently, it less than half occupied serving fewer than 90 men a night. The huge space has allowed us to eliminate the traditional 90-day shelter limit for individuals, and also to be more flexible with other shelter rules which sometimes act as barriers to men seeking shelter. In addition, Public Health has visited shelters, respite hotels, and encampments in an effort to provide vaccines to the unsheltered. I am hopeful campers consider utilizing this clean and spacious City shelter as an option for shelter. 
 
I have no desire or plan to forcibly remove campers from the park.  My hope is that similar to situations in the past, we can resolve issues collaboratively working with individuals experiencing homelessness.  I hope to find a reasonable solution at Reindahl before events in the park need to be cancelled. We ask that advocates give space to allow these conversations to occur. Our goal is and always has been to connect people to the services they need. I also ask advocates who have prevented the clean-up of abandoned tents to allow City staff to continue to work to keep the park clean. It benefits no one when an encampment becomes unsanitary and unsafe.  We will continue to work with community partners to seek options and alternatives for campers.  Parks has worked on these matters for years and will continue to do so.   
 
With its proposal to purchase property to build a permanent men's shelter, its support for new tiny house villages, its purchase of a nursing home for a temporary women shelter and its steadfast support for a permanent family shelter, the City has engaged in an unprecedented number of efforts to seek solutions for the unsheltered this year.  I and the Parks Division continue to support the City's efforts to support those experiencing homelessness by connecting them to the services they need.  
 
 
Eric M. Knepp
Parks Superintendent 
 
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