The opening of a temporary homeless shelter may provide refuge to homeless members of the Occupy Madison group with winter not far away.
According to Josh Wescott, chief of staff for Dane County Executive Joe Parisi, homeless members of the Occupy Madison group were relocated from Lake View County Park to Token Creek Park Tuesday.
The group was previously located at an encampment on the 800 block of East Washington Avenue before being evicted and moving to Lake View County Park.
“We don’t think camping is a very good idea in this climate, but if you’re going to make the decision to camp, go to Token Creek,” he said.
Wescott said he and other county workers want to encourage Occupy members to make use of shelters in the area instead of camping.
A temporary shelter recently established in the county budget will act as a resource for the homeless and will be opening Monday, Wescott said. It is a day-warming shelter located on East Washington Avenue, he said, and will run seven days a week from about 7 a.m. until the time night shelters open.
He said he did not know exactly how many people the facility would hold, but estimated about 25 to 30 people.
While unsure whether members of Occupy Madison will make use of this facility, Wescott said he and other county workers intend to work with each individual one-by-one. He said taxpayers are spending money to provide them with services and amenities, including furniture.
“[The shelter may] help with other underlying causes [such as alcohol and drug abuse],” Wescott added. “We hope they will utilize the facility.”
About two weeks ago, homeless campers associated with the Occupy Madison group relocated to Lake View County Park, Wescott said. Since the park has specific rules against camping and is located at the heart of a residential area, he said residents had become concerned with the group staying there.
Wescott said there were interactions between group members and residents that resulted in police arrival, as well as seven or eight calls to the fire department requesting to extinguish fires in the park.
To solve this problem, Wescott said the County Park Departments granted the group a special permit to camp at Token Creek Park, which is where they camped last summer.
Ald. Mike Verveer, District 4, said Occupy members are not pleased with the switch because it is outside city limits and is not on a bus route, creating a challenge to get to the downtown area. It is also difficult to bike or walk to Madison, he added, since it is located off a main highway.
Wescott said despite these hindrances, some Occupy members preferred camping outside to staying in the county’s provided hotels and shelters.
Verveer said reasons for Occupy’s hesitation could be related to the complaints of bed bugs at the Grace Episcopal Church shelter on West Washington Avenue. He said Porchlight, Inc. claims this has been taken care of, but said he can understand the group’s worries about this issue.
Steve Schooler, executive director of Porchlight Inc., could not be reached for comment.
Verveer added some Occupy members do not have the option to stay in the city’s shelters due to past behavior that resulted in banishment.
Another shelter is located on East Washington Avenue and is provided by the Salvation Army, he said, but he added there is always more that can be done to provide the homeless with more choices.
“There is no doubt there are not enough resources for the homeless communities,” Verveer said.
A police statement from the North District Police Department said a neighborhood meeting is scheduled for Monday, Nov. 26 at 6 p.m. to discuss residents’ varying concerns about Occupy Madison’s previous location in the Lake View County Park area.