Last May, the City of Madison permitted temporary homeless camps in parks across the city, pausing a policy forbidding overnight camping in city parks.
This Sunday, city leaders are set to foreclose on an encampment at Reindahl Park, located near the Dane County Airport.
Community activists say that forcibly relocating residents of Reindahl Park would sever them from neighborhood resources, trigger mental health issues and destroy the community that’s formed among park residents.
James DeGray is a resident of Reindahl Park. Speaking at a city-county meeting last night, he outlined why residents preferred the park — as opposed to the city’s temporary shelter options.
Said DeGray: “I believe that social or physically distancing outside is the best way to stop any spread of contagion… I’ve been in some community meetings here at Reindahl amongst the people that have been staying here, and was told that I could speak on behalf of everyone. We don’t feel that it’s right that we have to leave during the pandemic and rely on other people…It would be much wiser to come to an actual functional system for using the parks to house people in an emergency, rather than kick us out and get rid of the cheapest alternative.”
Many activists who spoke last night also pointed to guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which says that disrupting encampments can increase the potential for disease spread. Speaking at yesterday’s meeting, Evelyn Gildrie-Voyles — a volunteer who works with residents of Reindahl Park — said that the camp has self-imposed public health policies.
“The people residing at Reindahl take distancing very seriously, and have created their own means of handwashing and sanitation, since the city was slow to provide wash stations and trash collection,” Gildrie-Voyles said. “There is currently a network of volunteers and service providers that are serving the residents at Reindahl.”
In February the city cleared out a similar camp at McPike Park on the near-east side. Jim O’Keefe, Madison’s Community Development Director, told WORT today that that situation was slightly different to the one at Reindahl park.
“I think it’s comparing apples to oranges, in the sense that McPike Park, at its height, was never a sanctioned encampment sight, or what we refer to as a Temporary Permissible Encampments. The Reindahl Park location was,” he says.
O’Keefe says that the number of residents at Reindahl fluctuates, but at last count it was around fifteen to twenty people.
But, O’Keefe adds that even Reindahl was just a temporary solution. He says that, since last year, the city’s taken a number of steps to increase sanitation and public health requirements at the city’s shelters.
“Great precautions have been taken at the shelter settings to avoid the spreading of COVID. There is daily screening for COVID symptoms at intake…The evidence suggests, and the experience has been, that the shelters are every bit as safe — if not moreso — than the encampment settings.
Last December, a thirty-year old man with no permanent address was found dead in the park. Another man was found dead in the park last September.
Meanwhile, the city council is resuming a vote on whether to place a permanent men’s homeless shelter on Madison’s far east side. Residents and business owners near the proposed location, on Zeier Road, say the permanent homeless shelter should be located near downtown — such as at the current, but temporary, men’s homeless shelter at the old Fleet Services building on E Washington Ave.
Alders will take up the proposal once again at their virtual meeting this evening.