Madison Common Council postpones vote on homeless encampment at Reindahl Park

Updated: May. 18, 2021 at 10:24 PM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - After an eight hour meeting that began Tuesday night and lasted well into Wendesday morning, the Madison Common Council decided to postpone a vote on whether or not to evict those living in tents at Reindahl Park.

Instead, they referred the motion to multiple sub-committees within the council. Those sub-committees will study the topic before the issue returns to the Common Council for a vote.

The resolution was written by District 8 Alder Juliana Bennett, calling to keep the park open “until a suitable alternative site is established.”

Ahead of the meeting, Jim O’Keefe, the city’s community development director, told NBC15 that city attorneys are prepared to share potential legal challenges to the resolution.

“This [resolution] emerged only last evening so staff have had precious little time to to review it and evaluate it,” O’Keefe said. He said the resolution may conflict with the city’s zoning code ordinances, state statutes regulating campgrounds and jurisdiction over park space.

Last summer, the city authorized Reindahl Park as a legal campsite, known as a temporary permissible encampment (TPE). The authorization ended in early May, and the city evicted the campers. O’Keefe also explained, Madison Parks wanted the space for its summer programs.

“I just find it really incomprehensible to serve an eviction notice to someone that doesn’t have a home,” Bennett said.

Monday night, the city’s Homeless Issues Committee took up a resolution to continue the encampment at Reindahl Park, passed it unanimously and sent it to the Common Council.

As of Tuesday, O’Keefe said roughly ten people still live at Reindahl Park. “That’s about twice the number that was there when the authorization was rescinded,” he said.

For options outside of Reindahl Park, the city has suggested indoor shelters and another TPE at Starkweather Park.

But critics have said Starkweather Park is not a suitable place to live. “I hiked back there the other day,” community member Jesse Ransom said. “I know during the middle of summer, it’s really bad for mosquitoes. The ticks are starting to come out there because it’s so swampy.”

O’Keefe said roughly 20 people are currently staying at Starkweather.

“Shelter facilities or encampment facilities are always intended to be stopgap measures. They’re not intended to be a longer term response to homelessness,” O’Keefe said. “The solution to homelessness is housing.”

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