Homeless campers to be ‘evicted’ from Madison park

Published: Feb. 19, 2021 at 11:24 PM CST
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - The City of Madison is clearing an unauthorized encampment from a public park, months after a homeless population moved in.

The “eviction” notices around McPike Park say all property must be removed by the end of February. According to Jim O’Keefe, the city’s community development director, the encampment formed and grew over the course of the pandemic, peaking in the fall with about 40 residents.

“It’s sad, frankly, that this has to be, or seen to be by some, as an option,” O’Keefe said. “But I also think in some ways it’s disappointing that some would see this as a better alternative than shelter facilities.”

Last spring, Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway issued an executive order allowing public parks for encampments under certain conditions, but this didn’t include McPike Park, O’Keefe explained.

“The city has not—and never has intended—to promote the use of public parks or outdoor camping as a long-term alternative to shelters or other housing resources,” O’Keefe said, adding the decision to close now would minimize the most “disruption.”

Most of the residents had already left. NBC15 found seven people on Friday, going in and out of their tents.

O’Keefe admits, neighbors from the other side of the railroad tracks have complained, but they’ve also donated food and clothes.

Homeless outreach groups like Sankofa Behavioral & Community Health are helping with the move out. Sara Allee-Jatta, a coordinator with the group, explained, homeless individuals have sought encampments because many are concerned about the coronavirus. Some couples may not want to be separated in the overnight men’s and women’s shelters. She added, individuals staying at McPike Park chose the location due to its proximity to daytime service organizations like the Beacon.

The notice to residents encourages them to seek the shelters, which O’Keefe says, has greater space. “There’s been a lot of effort to improve those facilities, to change the ways that they’re run. We think if people are willing to give them a try, they’ll find that it’s a better alternative,” he said.

If residents choose not to leave, the city says it does not plan on taking “enforcement action.”

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