The Madison City Council struggled to decide whether to live in an “and world” or an “or world” when discussing the management of public space at their meeting Tuesday.
Mayor Paul Soglin’s proposed ordinance to ban homeless people from laying on public sidewalks from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. in the central business district of Madison, received support and concern from council members before ultimately failing with a vote count of 7-11.
Some alders viewed the ordinance as a decision between an ordinance-based approach or a services-oriented one while others said the two approaches could be pursued simultaneously.
Soglin argued the ordinance is essential for pedestrians in their ability to move about freely from the 100 to the 800 block of State Street. Providing free, open sidewalks in the central business district is also vital to the health of the city’s businesses there, he added.
Ald. David Ahrens, District 15, who voted in favor of the ordinance, agreed with Soglin. He said the city has a “social contract” with business owners and that State is a public street, not a “private bedroom.”
In addition to preserving commercial business on State Street, Soglin said he hoped the council would vote in favor of an “enjoyable space for everyone.”
“We’re not going in the route of Portland in terms of what happened in public spaces,” Soglin said.
Many alders viewed Soglin’s ordinance as living in an “or world,” where he would rather shift the problem instead of deal with the issue of homelessness firsthand.
Ald. Mark Clear, District 19, who voted against the ordinance, said he believed the council should choose a different way to deal with the overarching issue of homelessness, adding that the dilemma won’t be accomplished through ordinances.
“When all you have is ordinances and police, everything looks like ordinances and police,” Clear said.
While there is no “one size fits all” solution, Capt. Carl Gloede of the Madison Police Department said setting rules and guidelines through ordinances can be successful in gaining compliance from citizens.
Despite there not being one simple solution, many alders voiced to live in the “and world,” where they were open to voting in favor of the ordinance, but wanted the mayor’s full support that more will be done to solve the problem.
“We have to live in an ‘and world,’ or else this ordinance will be seen as the mayor criminalizing the homelessness,” Ald. Barbara Harrington-McKinney, District 1, said.
Ald. Larry Palm, District 17, echoed this concern, adding that the council needs to focus on the long term goal for people who are homeless.
Nearly two hours into the debate, Ald. Zach Wood, District 8, said he, like may other council members, felt conflicted on the ordinance. But, while he said he appreciated the intent of what the mayor was trying to do, he felt it is necessary to take care of the symptoms before moving people out.
In a continuous effort to expand voting opportunities for students, the council also unanimously approved in their consent agenda to open another polling station on the University of Wisconsin campus.
The Student Activity Center, located at 333 East Campus Mall, will provide another voting site for students for the upcoming general election. Starting Oct. 24, room 4204 will serve as an in-person absentee voting site.