Mayor Dave's office is promising swift action against the hobo jungle along the Yahara River.
In my last post, I detailed a citizen group's concern with the impromptu encampments located east of the Yahara River between E. Johnson Street and E. Washington Ave.
The Friends of the Yahara River Parkway are asking:
Is this what we want in our parks or adjacent private property? Our parks should be for all people. ... But we expect behavior that is respectful of other users and responsible to the environment.
I asked for and received a prompt reply from Mayor Dave Cieslewicz's office through his information guy, George Twigg. Here is the synopsis:
- The Mayor's Office is promising fast action to clean up the mess.
- "This situation is a real problem ... not something we can tolerate."
- "It is not a safe situation for anyone."
- The city will develop a comprehensive action plan to combat the hobo jungle just as it did the squatters at Brittingham Park.
But even more momentous, the Mayor now seems to be charting a new course -- no more chasing trouble makers from one part of town to the next.
"It's not adequate to tamp out hotspots and displace the problem from one part of the community to another."
Contrast that to Ald. Brenda Konkel's response to the Friends of Yahara River Parkway (FYRP):
I have a hard time being supportive of kicking them out. Perhaps some more garbage cans and a restroom facility would help?
Finally, the Mayor is drawing a line in the sand -- the city will get all law and order and hope that the county, being the primary human services provider, and private social service agencies can get to any underlying personal issues.
"Time is not on our side"
As detailed in the communication from George Twigg on April 24, 2008:
The Mayor agrees with the Friends of the Yahara River Parkway. As with Brittingham Park, he believes this situation is a real problem, and that the status quo is not something we can or should tolerate. We can't have a de facto campground -- unlicensed and unregulated -- operating in the middle of the city. It's not a safe situation for anyone -- neighborhood residents, people passing through on the parkway, or the individuals themselves down there.
We are going to approach this situation like we have with Brittingham. Joel Plant from the Mayor's office will be pulling together a group of stakeholders (police, neighbors, Dane County, service providers, the alder from the area, etc.) to develop a comprehensive strategy to deal with the situation. As we did with Brittingham, this will be done on a short timeline, because time is not on our side in this situation as the weather gets warmer.
We will take an approach to Yahara that is similar to what we did at Brittingham .... It will involve enforcement of acceptable behavior standards and connection to social services in equal measure.
The active involvement and support of the alder from the area will be especially critical, since FYRP has apparently been discussing this issue with her for some time now. (Ald. Kerr played an indispensable role in working with us to develop the Brittingham plan.)
Beyond the Yahara River, the Mayor has asked Joel Plant to lead an overall review of how we are tackling this issue. It's not adequate to tamp out hotspots and displace the problem from one part of the community to another. The Mayor believes there should be two principles: expect, communicate and enforce standards of behavior; and treat the underlying issues that cause homelessness. He believes that the City's main job is the former, and that social services funded by Dane County and non-profits such as United Way play the primary role in the latter. You will definitely want to ask the County for their take on this as well.
Yahara River Friends to Brenda
Here are excerpts from Ed Jepsen's letter written on behalf of the Friends of the Yahara River Parkway on April 14 to Ald. Konkel:
There is much we don't know about the residents of these encampments. Who are they? What are their personal issues? Are they truly harmless or do they have records?
... How close do you want to get to these encampments? Would you be comfortable recreating near this type of activity? How about if you had children with you? Would you take K-12 students on Earth Day activities to or near these areas? What about Saturday work day adults?
I have had several men tell me they are uncomfortable near these encampments. I was told by one city maintenance worker that they have required police protection during certain clean-ups because the encampment residents have threatened the workers. This did not occur at Burr Jones or the old boat house site, but again who is living in the encampment and why?
... Is this what we want in our parks or adjacent private property?
For the record, over the last eight years FYRP volunteers have found homeless encampments in every one of the parks, under the rail bridges, on private as well as public property, next to the shelters as well as hidden away on "abandoned" parcels. Sometimes it's just a sleeping bag or blanket others times the areas are festooned with bottles (some broken), cans and the curb side recycling of someone else's refuse. I have personally seen a site go from nothing to 4-5 mattresses and substantial litter in a matter of days...
... Our parks should be for all people. The FYRP has never taken a position that the homeless should be harassed or kept out of the parks. But we expect behavior that is respectful of other users and responsible to the environment.
Having said that we also know our society needs to address the serious and often intertwined issues of homelessness, transiency, drug/alcohol dependence and mental health.
Read the entire letter on the listserv for Friends of Yahara River Parkway.
Yahara Friends to Blaska
Finally, for the record, here are excerpts from Ed Jepsen's communication with your faithful Blaska Blogger:
April 16, 2008
I was sitting at the same table as you yesterday at the 4PM CAC (Community Action Commission) meeting. ... I found the meeting worthwhile if not always focused.
... As our letter indicates we are calling for more active management of both public and private parcels.
Please note I am not sure how to characterize the residents of these encampments. Are they truly homeless? Or there by choice? Are they hobos in the classic sense of the Great Depression? Do they have chemical or mental health issues? Police records? Transiency and drunken behavior is a concern, but we suspect that problem is much broader than these encampments.
Our non-profit want to see these issues addressed in a responsible and humane manner.
Previously in this series: