David Michael Miller
Good news! Mayor Paul Soglin has solved Madison’s homeless problem.
Soglin has proposed an ordinance that would stop individuals from sleeping or camping out on downtown public sidewalks, public rights of way and any property containing city offices between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m. It is modeled after ordinances in Portland and Honolulu.
Note, the Portland ordinance allows people who are homeless to set up tents and other structures to camp on public walkways as long as they clear out by 7 a.m. For some reason, Soglin’s draft proposal lacks this exception.
If this ordinance passes, people with homes can head downtown without fear of seeing the homeless people they’d otherwise have to deal with every morning. They can go straight to their offices, UW classrooms and trendy coffee shops without having to think about people whose lives are a total bummer. There’s nothing better than grabbing a hot pumpkin spice latte on a cold October morning, but the last thing I want is to have to walk past an old man covered in a pile of ratty blankets to get to my favorite cafe.
Plus, positioning the homeless farther away from our business and cafes means we don’t have to fuss about shelters and housing solutions anymore. If we just stop seeing the homeless, we can stop thinking about the homeless.
Why stop at the homeless? With ordinances like these, we now have a one-size-fits-all solution to all of our society’s problems.
I mean, at the end of the day, that’s what this ordinance is really advocating for. Keeping the homeless and the home-secure from coming into contact with each other. No policymaker is calling it segregation. The ordinance is supposed to help commerce and improve general welfare by making sure there is free flow of goods and services and that residents and visitors have “access to businesses, restaurants [and] shops.” But a lot of race-based segregation was wrapped in economic rationale too.
Now, I know segregation has gotten a bad rap, but it has a long, proud history in Madison. Our overwhelmingly white university, workplaces and neighborhoods meant that racial inequity wasn’t a problem for decades — as far as white people were concerned. But now, as white people have more conversations with black and Latino folks in the community, more and more white Madisonians are realizing some uncomfortable truths.
Who wants to be uncomfortable? Just like with the homeless, if we could stop talking about the achievement gap and policing issues, we wouldn’t have to think about these things anymore. If we stop thinking about these issues, we don’t have to do anything. Then we can go back to being happy.
Life is always happier when we can think of people different from us as an abstraction. We’ve already done this with politics. We’ve divided our communities and social media networks up by political affiliation. Now we don’t have to be challenged with views other than our own — except at Thanksgiving. Ugh, Uncle Jerry, am I right?
Here in Dane County, we can think of everyone outside of our lands as racist, xenophobic religious zealots who vote against their own interest. People in conservative areas can think of everyone in Madison as left-wing leeches who all have cushy six-figure public-sector jobs.
Heck, the news director of a major Milwaukee talk station even takes pride in the fact that he’s never set foot in Dane County. Now, that’s a man who knows his segregation. So when state legislators make more cuts to the UW in the next budget, they won’t have to think of UW-Madison employees as hard-working people who are trying to help cure diseases like Zika.
After all, when you don’t come into contact with different kinds of people, you don’t have to care about them.
But at least we can avoid facing things that make us uncomfortable.