Madison, Wis. – After months of debate, Madison and Dane County are ready to ban homeless people from sleeping on the City-County Building’s “front porch” starting Thursday.
The move came as a relief to those raising concerns about behavior problems and health issues on the front porch that faces Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and at the Madison Municipal Building across the street, but homeless advocates fear many of the dozens who sleep there will scatter to places that are less safe.
The front porch has been viewed as a shelter of last resort and is attractive to the homeless because it’s lit, has a roof and is near police.
The committee that runs the City-County Building decided on Aug. 31 to ban the encampments over concerns about health and safety. It’s already illegal to sleep on Municipal Building grounds, and that law will be strictly enforced.
Madison Police Central District Capt. Carl Gloede said he will have officers on duty to work with facilities staff Thursday night.
The county has long targeted outreach — doing assessments and linking the homeless to housing opportunities, alcohol and drug treatment and mental health services — around the front porch, officials said.
“There has been outreach by county and service providers for the last two weeks, so hopefully there will be minimal issues,” Gloede said. “Should persons refuse to leave property, they could be issued trespass tickets.”
Enis Ragland, deputy mayor for finance and administration, said that service providers and homeless advocates will continue to work with the homeless and police will use a “community service” approach. “We believe there is shelter capacity for people who are willing to follow the rules,” Ragland said.
Steve Schooler, executive director of Porchlight Inc., which provides homeless services including a men’s shelter, said he’s unsure of the impact.
“Assuming there are about 40 to 50 that are sleeping at the City-County Building, if all decided to come to the drop-in shelter, it would really stretch us,” Schooler said.
City community development director Jim O’Keefe said that some men won’t choose shelters because of rules on alcohol and drug use, an inability to leave and return freely, and a general aversion to the shelter environment.
O’Keefe said the situation for women and families is more tenuous because the Salvation Army already must turn clients away for lack of space.
As the weather changes, more people will likely try shelter facilities, some may leave town, some may find housing and others will move to different locations on the streets, O’Keefe said.
Former Ald. Brenda Konkel, an outspoken advocate for the homeless, said, “Basically, people are being scattered. They will be sleeping in less safe places. There’s no other legal [outside] place to go.”