In an ironic twist of events within Dane County politics, the only homeless member of Dane County’s main committee dealing with homelessness was removed from his position last week.
Daniel Callahan, the former member, said he was told that County Executive Joe Parisi had removed him from the committee after a meeting on Sept. 10. Callahan said he later discovered the decision had been made the previous Friday, but no one had notified him.
Callahan said Parisi made the decision after Callahan was involved in an altercation at an Occupy Madison event at Lake Farm Park Campgrounds. Four men jumped Callahan; he was subsequently transported to the hospital to be treated for a mild concussion. According to Callahan, he was then jailed for a short time and charged with disorderly conduct and battery.
A statement from the Dane County Parks Department said Callahan used foul, racist language and then beat a man during the altercation.
Callahan denied being the one who made the racist statement, saying it was dark out and the park worker was unable to see who said it.
The case is still pending, but Callahan said the charges will likely be dropped, and his defenders have told him it is unprecedented for someone to be removed from their post before charges are filed against them. Callahan said he wishes he would have had an opportunity to tell Parisi his side of the story.
The Homeless Issues Committee is a new initiative that began approximately two months ago by the County Board, according to Parisi spokesperson Casey Becker. Parisi originally recommended Callahan be part of the committee, Becker said.
The committee has seats allocated for people who are or have been homeless, according to Ald. Bridget Maniaci, District 2.
Becker said Parisi chose to replace Callahan with Mike Mullikin, a military veteran who was previously homeless.
Callahan was the committee’s only currently homeless member. Callahan said he has been homeless in Madison since 1979 and knows approximately 80 percent of Madison’s homeless population.
Callahan said as a member of the committee, he had hoped to establish a warming center for winter and better housing shelters in downtown Madison. Callahan said Porchlight, Madison’s current homeless shelter, is disrespectful toward the homeless.
“The manner that they treat people, it’s degrading,” Callahan said. “Everybody deserves respect.”
Callahan also wanted the committee to streamline the city’s shelters, which he said are scattered throughout Madison. He said shelters in Milwaukee give the homeless access to bus tickets, medical care, food stamps and other programs to help the homeless get back on their feet.
Becker said the county’s human services efforts are unrivaled and millions of dollars are spent on non-mandated programs to help the homeless.
“The county executive is sensitive to the struggles associated with being homeless and has placed a priority on funding for services that help those who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless,” she said.
Callahan said even though he was replaced, he will continue to attend the meetings and voice his opinion.