A Board of Estimates meeting provided opportunity for homeless residents and advocates to share some of the problems facing their downtown community Monday night.
Many who testified at the meeting did so during an agenda item focused on discussing a set of recommendations for future public bathroom facilities intended to serve Madison’s unsheltered homeless population, along with daytime and bar-time visitors to the city.
The mix of testimonies also included non-homeless residents and frequently referenced a memo released by Mayor Paul Soglin last Friday which they said unfairly targeted homeless people.
“It drives me nuts to hear the Mayor speak like he did,” Madison resident William Gruber said. “The idea that people want to be out in that miserable, outside world just blows my mind.”
The memo itself focused largely on the homeless encampment on the intersection of Frances Street and State Street, between The Statesider and The Towers apartment buildings.
Soglin said in the memo that the area had experienced a “rapid deterioration” over the last week, and that hypodermic needles had been found on the site along with a pair of “feces laden pants.”
He also said city park crews were required to power-wash the pedestrian byway to restore it to a proper level of sanitation.
“This is not a homeless issue,” Soglin said. “It is a matter of public health and safety since there are restroom facilities adjacent to the City County Building.”
Many homeless people have taken residence under the awnings of the City County Building’s front entryway, some of whom specifically addressed the toilet situation at the meeting.
“The thing is overflowing,” Madison resident Al Mahemet said, referring to the city-provided port-a-potty next to the building. “There is literally standing water in there all week.”
The public bathroom project seeks to establish more reliable fixtures for the homeless population to use, and an amendment introduced at the meeting called for both an annual report on the availability of public restrooms and the use of the project’s allotted $300,000 budget.
The proposal also sought regular maintenance of the currently existing toilet outside the City Council Building.
The Ad Hoc Downtown Public Restroom Committee, the body leading the project, weighed input from several parties, including the local homeless population and the Business Improvement Board in order to make a set of recommendations moving forward.
Some of these recommendations included marking existing public bathrooms more clearly with signage, expanding the hours of the downtown Peace Park Visitor’s Center and its public restroom and encouraging business development in the area to include restroom facilities.
The board approved the adoption of the recommendations and their amendment through a unanimous vote.
Ald. Mike Verveer, District 4, a member of the committee, spoke about the committee’s past work but said it would be an extended project.
“Much more work needs to be done on this issue,” he said. “We’ve only taken baby steps so far.”
The recommendations will be heard by the City Council at their next meeting and become subject to final approval.