The displacement of Occupy Madison campers from a county park Sunday sparked local philanthropy efforts from members of the community this weekend.
The group, consisting of about 15 to 30 people, was camped out in the park for 120 days, according to Carrie Springer, spokesperson for the Dane County Executive’s Office.
Since leaving its post at the Occupy Madison site on East Washington Avenue, a nomadic group of campers was staying north of the city at Token Creek Park. However, county officials asked them to leave Sunday because county workers need to prepare the area for public camping season, Springer said.
Although the county does not usually accommodate for winter camping, they made an exception for the group seeking a place to stay, Springer said. The county originally permitted the group to stay in the park for 90 days, and then extended this provision another 30 days to allow them time to line up alternative places to stay.
Springer said the county assured the campers there is room in local shelters and said she was generous with an extension to the time they allowed the group to stay.
Koua Vang, local resident and lawyer, offered up his vacant lot about 10 miles away from Token Creek Park for the homeless group until April 16, when campsites reopen again for the season.
He equated the campers’ situation to his own personal experience living as a refugee in Thailand during the Vietnam War, moving from town to town trying to flee communist persecution.
Though some members of the group plan to follow through with Vang’s offer, city zoning ordinances prevent him from legally offering up this space.
Vang said he plans to fight this issue in court, defending his intentions to help those in need.
“We should not help only those who can help us, but those who cannot help us,” Vang said. “I just feel like if you have the opportunity to help someone, this is the opportunity.”
Brenda Konkel, executive director of the Tenant Resource Center and advocate for the Occupy group, expressed concern toward the city for not doing more to help the large homeless population.
Konkel said the city does not allow legal camping in any category in the city, an issue her organization has asked officials to address for weeks.
“This has absolutely become a political protest at this point,” Konkel said in an email to The Badger Herald.
Currently, there is no legal place for homeless people to sleep and local shelters offer a 60-day seasonal limit, Konkel said. For example, 150 men are currently wandering the streets, having used up all of their eligibility days in a shelter, she said.
Vang said the local shelters are very overcrowded and simply are not doing enough for the high demand of homeless people in the area. He said he hopes the government will find a permanent solution for this group and similar future groups of homeless people so the responsibility does not fall on the shoulders of private citizens.