An article in today’s Madison State Journal interviews Mayor Soglin, local business owners, and others about the “problem” of homeless people hanging out on State St. at Capitol Square. According to the mayor they are “nurtured by well-intended people with clothing, bedding and food, making the area even more of an attraction.” Well, we know who he’s talking about, don’t we?
And don’t get me wrong. I know how uncomfortable it can be to walk through that area. For all the hellos and kind words I receive from those I know, I’ve also had many unpleasant encounters.
But here’s the deal. Where are homeless people supposed to spend the day? The shelters close first thing in the morning and then they’re on their own. When a newly-homeless person comes to Grace, I direct them to the benches along Capitol Square, or to the Capitol, or yes, to “Philosopher’s Grove.” If they’ve missed the free van to Hospitality House, they’ve got no way to get to the only place that’s open for them during the week. Those benches and “Philosopher’s Grove” are very poorly suited as locations for the provision of services that might help the people there improve their situation.
In a few weeks, the renovated Central Library will again be an option. And no doubt the Library entrance will become what it was before the renovations, a place where homeless people hang out. On weekends, there’s nowhere to go and if the weather’s bad, and someone comes looking for shelter, I’m likely to invite them into Grace, at least for as long as we’re open. And I direct them to the various feeding programs where they might at least get something to eat before the shelter reopens in the evening.
The point is, in the absence of a central location like a day resource center, where people can find shelter and also get connected with services, most homeless people have little choice but to hang out on the streets in boredom with the only escape being alcohol or drugs. Until that happens, homeless people will hang out on State St. and Capitol Square. And if they’re forced out from these places, they’ll find somewhere else to gather.