Ways to Help the City Face the Homeless Issue
By Ronnie Barbett
The homeless issue is being dealt with on all fronts. The solutions are coming and all proposals should be considered. Maybe an old idea can be put into place so if you gave a proposal to the powers that be some time ago, resubmit it at will. I’m predicting that the homeless population will continue to escalate as reported by the Homeless Services Consortium’s 2013 Point In Time (P.I.T.) survey summary done in January. This survey covers the complete spectrum of “homeless”: People inside the city’s many shelters, including transitional housing, plus those outside around this city on a nationwide level. This report goes directly to Congress. Citywide reporting aids us in setting homeless assistance grants. It also encourages those organizations dealing with homelessness to deliver more and better service ideas. While doing a survey that was put together by Madison Tenant Resource Center’s Brenda Konkel, Sarah Gillmore, Christine Lor and others, I personally saw, first-hand, the people this survey impacted. The homeless were living inside parked cars, Winnebagos, vans and trucks parked on the streets where tickets were not forthcoming.
It was out in the park area where a different side of homelessness takes place by people who actually found the shelter system humiliating, unsafe, not to their liking. The managers at the shelters were uncaring (Porchlight, Salvation Army and the transitional ones), bunk beds had no pillows and a shower area where three people are naked all at one time turned them off. They bought a bicycle, put a tow wagon on the back of it to carry their gear and went fishing, literally. Homeless by bike, moving from park to park doesn’t seem all that bad. You see the sun come up, you spend some days catching fish, eat at the Luke House for a family-like dinner. They occasionally use the churches around this great city for essentials. Donna Asif’s Project Bubbles for laundry, Shower Power at the First United Methodist Church or bike over to the Catholic Charities Multi-Cultural Center for cleaning the body. Most churches offer spiritual services, clothing donations as well as a food pantry. Homeless people use their bicycle to carry aluminum cans to and from the recycling centers and that small change covers the cost of cigarettes, etc. The parks are also home to those that carry backpacks and sleeping bags for a good night’s sleep. During the day, you’ll see them taking the chance of storing their gear in nearby bushes.
Unattended gear has been under discussion for some time. The homeless, after a period of time, gamble hoping to come back to find it still there instead of carrying an extra thirty pounds around with them. Being out in the parks has a calming effect on your problems and there are portable toilets and drinking fountains nearby. A picnic area setting with trash cans, not to mention the lake view scenery all around you. Choose your favorite lake for camping and still during the day the city and its services are nearby. Let’s be honest. The Salvation Army and Porchlight men’s shelters are readily available and being used to full capacity. If every homeless person as revealed in the Point In Time survey was to enter these shelters at once, this city would have to face the homeless issue in “emergency” mode.
This city did applaud Occupy Madison’s alternative living encampment. “Dane County recognizes that a tent city is not a permanent solution, nor is it the only solution to salve gaps in the homeless services system, but has proven to be a viable temporary strategy and should continue to be a part of the solution. A tent city provides services for people who have used their limited time in shelters, have been turned away from shelters or whose individual needs are not adequately met by the current shelter program models.”
This statement was made by a panel of people who cared about homeless solutions: The Homeless Issues Committee. The people at Occupy Madison moved a least a dozen times during the last year or so due to opposition from everyone not understanding the escalation of homelessness throughout Wisconsin. People should have been told about the unique housing idea that Occupy Madison presented. A homeless man and his dog found sanctuary at this camp. If you are a pet owner you know how good he felt being able to live the way he wants. The biggest success of Occupy was how it accommodated the issues of “couples”. Men and women who had to separate at night to go to sleep apart from each other only this camp provided for them. This place was a different setting which used very little city funding– only permission to camp out and a portable toilet provided. At this time, I would like to thank the city’s people for trying to put up with them and any problem that arises from the activity of the homeless. We are on the streets as well as the parks. The doorways of some of Madison’s finest businesses have an entrance-way suitable to block out the wind and rain. Hopefully, we try to be out of sight of passers-by. We love the black benches situated out and around the Square and State Street. We know our limits to the Square area which includes no sleeping on the Capitol grounds or inside of Metro bus stops. “No trespassing” signs are everywhere you can imagine. The statistics listed here by the Homeless Services Consortium’s Point In time (P.I.T.) crew should help this city’s powers that be face the homeless issue.
From the P.I.T. survey:
January Sheltered Results: Total of 732 homeless individuals sheltered in emergency shelter and transitional housing.
-107 families (358 individuals in families)
-373 single adults
-55 are veterans
-91 adults were considered chronically homeless (permanent disability, homeless for one year or for four times in three years)
-160 adults struggle with mental illness
-82 adults struggle with AODA issues and
-116 individuals are victimes of domestic vioolence.
January Unsheltered Results: Total of 99 homeless individuals unsheltered slept in a place not intended for habitation (cars, tent, hallways, basement, street).
-3 families (9 individuals in families)
-3 unaccompanied youth
-87 single adults
-3 are veterans
-55 adults are considered chronically homeless and
-Less information gathered on mental health and AODA.