Madison city officials take gradual approach vacating homeless encampment, campers search for other options

Updated: May. 12, 2021 at 12:26 AM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) -Homeless campers at Reindahl Park are looking for new options, after the city of Madison asked them to pack up and leave before May 9.

In a NBC15 phone interview with Jim O’ Keefe, Madison community development division director, he said the plan is to keep working with the homeless community and support them. He added he’s standing by the city’s request to vacate Reindahl park, hoping the campers will check into a shelter.

It’s not the first time campers were asked to vacate an encampment this year.

Two months ago, homeless campers were ordered to pack up and leave McPike Park.

Last week, city officials posted a notice at Reindahl Park issuing residents to remove their belongings.

Now, Starkweather Park is the new destination for the homeless community. City officials said this will be the only sanctioned outdoor living option until October.

Marching to the beat of his own drum, James DeGray said packing up and moving on has been his way of life for months.

“The way I plan my life is not particularly expensive and I try to do great things,” he said. “I came here to get work. I had a job, lost it. I lost my housing at the same time and it was really rough.”

DeGray calls Reindahl Park his home, after being ordered to vacate McPike park in March.

“I’m not really trying to have emotion about it. It’s like watching someone make a mistake,” he said.

The decision to move campers comes after complaints from businesses and people who live nearby, according to city officials.

“We don’t know if people are just tired of restrictions and they don’t want a reminder of us or whatever it is that has everyone scared, we’re just trying to come to an amicable solution,” DeGray said.

O’ Keefe said living outdoors is not a long-term solution and people should try shelters.

Porchlight Director Karla Thennes agrees.

“Everybody deserves a home. It’s not acceptable to be sleeping outside, she said. “The city is trying really hard to find a new permanent site for the men’s shelter so we can have something really nice that’s maybe 24 hours,” she said.

Last week, the Madison Common Council rejected the location for the men’s permanent homeless shelter on the East Side.

Thennes said she understands concerns about sleeping in a mass shelter during a pandemic, but explained the city has a valid argument.

“I also understand what the city’s doing,” Thennes said. “It’s summertime now and the parks need to reopen up and I do have space for them in the shelter.”

DeGray explained he’s hopeful they’re brighter days ahead.

“I’m just going to wait it out and see what happens,” he said.

The Madison Common Council will discuss the future of temporary encampments at the May 18 meeting.

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