Winter is getting closer, so that means the debate over homelessness is ramping up again

So the county has proposed a day shelter for Madison’s eastside, a site picked apparently out of the blue and with no input from the neighborhood. Mayor Soglin is outraged because the city wasn’t consulted and is having none of it. What frustrates me is that we’ve come down to the last minute again. Here it is early October and there are no definite plans in place for providing day shelter in the winter. No doubt the powers that be are hoping the problem will just go away and that when the library reopens next year, the seasonal fuss will die down.

Soglin is convinced that Madison is a magnet for homeless people from across the region:

“I have made it clear that the city of Madison does not have the resources or the responsibility to take care of Dane County’s and Wisconsin’s homeless population,” Soglin wrote.

Has he noticed that it is a magnet for people with homes as well? For students and young adults?

In fact, on Sunday I met a homeless man who asked me if I could make some copies of his resume. He is in Madison because he came here from a small town elsewhere in the state, not in hopes of mooching off of Madison’s largesse, but because he’s looking for work. The unemployment rate is much lower here than elsewhere in the state, lower than most of the small towns that dot the countryside.

The debate over a day center is not about providing a hang-out. It is about basic human needs–providing shelter from inclement weather–and about providing services as efficiently as possible. Rather than forcing people to traipse across the city lugging their possessions while they search for food, laundry facilities, a shower, as well as a job, a day center would put most of those services in a single place and staff it with human service professionals who could help people negotiate the labyrinthine bureaucracy of city, county, state, and federal services. coverage of the day center controversy is available here.

Chris Rickert writes here about Mayor Soglin’s position.

Meanwhile, we fed about 100 people last night at First Monday: meatloaf, potatoes, green beans, ice cream. Music ranged from Leonard Cohen to Opera and was very well received. There were men and women, including one family who enjoyed our hospitality:

Red tape in the way of a day shelter in Madison

I’ve been blogging about the impact of the library and Capitol closures on the homeless in Madison (previous entries here, here, here, and here). We’ve been working on solutions. One of the most promising was to use a vacant car dealership, now owned by the city, as a temporary space through March. Pat Schneider reports on this development, and on the red tape the city has thrown up around it. She’s been doing a great job keeping on this story.

As Schneider observes:

Winter is bearing down, and I’ve got to wonder what sense requiring a landscaping plan makes for a property in Wisconsin that will be used November through March. Not much grows here then. Should planning for a temporary use like this really require restriping the parking lot? A public hearing makes sense, but is there a way to expedite the process to accommodate some of the city’s most vulnerable residents?


Hmm, indeed!
One piece of good news. At least Savory Sunday has been given a permit to serve lunch in the Capitol on Sunday afternoons.

It’s summer in the city: No parking, no access, nobody in church

Getting to church on Sunday was an adventure. We knew that we would not have access to the parking spaces in our alley because of the Madison Marathon. I decided to take the bus. It became clear to me after a lengthy detour through the UW hospitals and several calls to the dispatcher, that the bus driver wasn’t clear on how she would get over to the eastside of Madison. When she came to a stop, forced by the advancing marathoners, I asked to be let out. It was the corner of Marion St. and W. Johnson. I too had to deal with the marathon course, but by the time I made it to W. Washington, the vast majority of runners had passed me and I was able to pick my way through the stragglers.

Attendance was awful, about a third of what we usually get on a Sunday. Most people didn’t try to make it, and those who did arrived quite late. It was the second of three consecutive Sundays on which parts of Capitol Sq. would be closed. This coming Sunday, June 5, is “Ride the Drive.” Street closures, parades, art fairs, are all part of the price of being located on the Square, but all of that means that our worshiping community shrinks on such occasions. But as one parishioner said to me, he felt rather sheepish complaining about a few blocks’ walk to church when he thought of what Christians in previous centuries had to do to worship together, and what they suffered for the faith.

On one level, such difficulties are another sign of the peripheral role played in culture by religion. We are not consulted about street closures or asked whether we are inconvenienced. Some years and with some events, it is impossible to learn before the day of the event itself, whether or how we will be impacted.

So I received the news that Madison’s new mayor, Paul Soglin, has cancelled the second “Ride the Drive” event with mixed feelings. I’m all for getting people downtown, especially on a Sunday, and I am eager to think creatively about how we might engage people who have come for such events. But at the same time, they create enormous inconvenience for many of our members, especially the elderly, who need to park in close proximity to the church, and are in special need of the relationships and human contact that they find in church each week.

My issue is not with the events themselves, but with the organizers who do not seem interested in how those who live, work, and worship in the downtown might be affected by their events, and especially the cumulative effect on morale and quality of life of week after week filled with such activities.