City of Madison looks to shut down the Reindahl Park homeless encampment by the end of the year
NBC15 News goes inside the encampment to find out what life is like at the park
MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) -The homeless encampment at Reindahl Park in Madison exploded in population over the summer. Dozens of people are now living there. Now the City of Madison is in a race against time to get them out before winter.
“Our intent is to bring that camp to a close and to do it by the end of the year so that people are not camping there this winter,” said Jim O’Keefe, the Community Development Director for the City of Madison.
But that’s easier said than done. Roughly 70 people are living in the park in tents and similar shelters. The park has become a very visible reminder that homelessness exists in Madison.
“I think they picked that location to get everyone’s attention,” said Debra Heggs who lives in a home near the park. “So, they are saying ‘Hey there is a problem, we are putting in your face.’”
Reindahl Park’s tent city sits along East Washington Avenue, one of the busiest thoroughfares as you come into the city.
“It’s sad. It’s sad sight to see, really,” added Heggs.
O’Keefe says the Centers for Disease Control encouraged cities not to disrupt encampments during the height of the pandemic. The City of Madison then issued an emergency order allowing certain encampments.
“Reindahl Park is not suited -- it’s not equipped for people to be living there long term,” said O’Keefe.
“Lately, it’s been getting cold, very cold. It’s very stressful having to worry about everything,” said Jamie Goodyear. Goodyear is living in a tent in the park with her boyfriend Anthony Kudingo. The pair are experiencing homelessness for the firs time in their lives.
“It’s rock bottom. It’s the realization that you don’t have anything,” said Kudingo.
Both Goodyear and Kudingo say they don’t want to live in the park because they often fear for their safety.
“Definitely some violence here, a lot of drug use,” said Kudingo.
“We see tents getting sliced up and it’s scary, you know? You never know when you could come home and that’s your tent,” added Goodyear.
O’Keefe believes the city missed their chance to shut down the camp at the beginning of the summer – that’s when just a few people were living in the park. He says they were going to shut it down, but the Madison Common Council stepped in and requested the camp be kept open while they looked for an alternative site. That’s when the population grew exponentially.
“What happened at Reindahl Park is predictable,” said O’Keefe. “One of the reasons we thought it wise to close that encampment in the summer because that park is an expansive one. We knew it would be difficult to control the numbers.”
The city is working on two new temporary sites where people living at Reindahl can soon occupy. One of the locations is at 3202 Dairy Drive – not far from Stoughton Road. O’Keefe says there will be access to public water and suitable housing instead of tents. O’Keefe hopes to have it ready in November. But getting people at Reindahl park to willingly move there might be a challenge.
“We cannot force them, that’s not what we intend to do here. We intend to work with the campers at the park,” said O’Keefe.
When asked about getting the Madison Police Department involved to forcibly remove people from the park, O’Keefe says that’s up to the council.
“That’s a decision ultimately that policy makers council members will have to make. We won’t be able to close Reindahl Park without the support of the council,” he said.
Two longer term properties are also in the works to address homelessness. The council has moved to purchase properties on Bartillon Drive and Zeier Road. O’Keefe says those locations will hopefully be used in the not-too-distant future.
But for now, the focus remains on getting the Dairy Drive location set up and convincing those at Reindahl Park to go there and another yet-to-be determined location.
Goodyear would like to see a more permanent solution worked out -- sooner rather than later.
“I think the city tries really hard, but they just haven’t gotten there yet. They are trying but it is just too slow,” she said.
The couple plans to stay in the park through the winter – because right now, they have nowhere else to go.
“It’s not really a choice to be homeless, but it’s something I have do,” said Goodyear.
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