On Friday, March 8, over 70 people gathered outside the City-County Building to raise awareness of the problem of homelessness in Madison. Day warming centers are scheduled to close March 31st, and that will leave some homeless people without a place to stay.
Rally organizers and homeless advocates voiced their concerns out about the lack of shelter options in Madison. They accused city officials of failing to do enough to address Madison’s homeless issues. Later in the night, after the rally moved indoors, Madison police issued tickets to nine people and arrested seven as they refused to leave the City-County Building.
Among those arrested was homeless advocate, Tami Miller. Please read her experience from the rally below:
“I looked out the glass doors at the City County Building and saw Carl, and Marty and so many other homeless friends who, have very few days of shelter left for the year, and have no legal place to go after that. I had just delivered a speech at the “Stop Criminalizing Homelessness” Rally that started with a quote from Martin Luther King “Never, never be afraid to do what is right, especially when the well-being of a person or an animal is at stake. Society’s punishments are small compared to the wounds we inflict on our soul when we look the other way” and pledged that my group would not look away when we saw social injustice. I felt like a fraud saying that and looking away from Carl and Marty and the rest who still have no place to go that is legal and safe. I couldn’t look away.
So I agreed to stay put and be arrested for trespassing- as my homeless friends would be. In the past year, I have met with the Mayor, County Executive, the Chief of Police, Homeless Service people, circulated petitions, testified in front of the County Board of Supervisors and spent day after day working, volunteering my time, financial resources and pouring my heart into helping the homeless in Dane county. I felt that I had exhausted all of the legal options.
It was with a heavy heart I did this, I kept thinking about my kids, my job— what would my Dad say? Would my family be embarrassed by this? Would I alienate the churches that have been helping us feed people and do outreach? Would my actions turn people away from helping with those who so desperately need it? I actually made myself sick in the holding cell from worrying about how this would impact the people I love.
The police were very polite, as were we. We cooperated and they did not cuff us – I walked with the officers over to the County Jail… I was processed and had to put on the blue scrub-like clothing, was frisked, fingerprinted and mug shots were taken. After sitting in the holding cell with 5 other women for a couple hours and paying $450 (about a weeks wages for me) I was released around 10:30 pm. I was arrested with 6 other homeless advocates and they released us all at the same time. There were some people waiting in the lobby for us who cheered our release… but I didn’t feel like cheering. It was not a small thing to me, the concern for the people that I love and how they would or wouldn’t understand consumed me.
I called or texted people after I was released to let them know I was ok. This morning I called my Dad, and my friend Chris and they both asked me the same thing…”What did you hope to accomplish with this?” I could tell my Dad was concerned about this, though he tried to be calm. Then my girls came home from their Dad’s and I had to tell them about it. Maddie asked questions and Bella just cried. That broke my heart. I read her the quote from Martin Luther King and I tried to explain it in a way she could understand. I re-assured her that I was safe, and that I would not be going back to jail and that they were my first priority…that they didn’t need to worry about anything, their Mommy would always be there for them.
Did my arrest actually accomplish anything besides upsetting people that I love and costing me a weeks salary? Have I alienated some of the people that have recently stepped up to help the homeless along with me? Do the homeless people I went to jail to make a point for know that we were fighting for them?
I spend my days and nights working so hard to help people, my life’s mission to show unconditional love and offer practical help… I fully admit I do not understand the game of political maneuvering to get media attention directed to the social injustices I am fighting for. I am only an ordinary person—who is trying to make the world better for those who have nothing…and sometimes when I listen to story after story—see what the people I care about have to go through just to exist… I feel desperate…when laws do not make sense, when they punish citizens for being poor–how do we get them changed?
Feeling a little sad and a little impotent today… I want—so much —to show love and to get practical, legal solutions for the homeless in Dane County, and I just couldn’t look the other way.”