After months of debate on banning panhandlers from city medians, the Public Safety Review Committee voted to repeal and recreate the contentious panhandling ordinance.
In its most recent form, the ordinance proposed to ban panhandling on all medians. Tuesday evening, members of the committee argued the ban should be narrowed to specific streets.
To answer this concern, the updated ordinance contained a list of streets that assistant city attorney Marci Paulsen said were analyzed for how heavily they are traveled.
But for homeless activist Brenda Konkel, the list seemed “problematic” and “goofy.”
“People aren’t going to memorize the streets they can or can’t panhandle on,” Konkel said.
The motion to repeal and amend section 12.325 of the ordinance to limit persons entering or staying on highways passed with a four to two vote.
The council will take up the measure before year’s end.
In an effort to get panhandlers off the streets, the council discussed ways to offer them alternative day jobs.
Originally proposed by Ald. Maurice Cheeks, District 10, the resolution declared the city of Madison’s intent to pursue a strategic plan investigating day time jobs for panhandlers and those in need.
A majority of the jobs include low-skill labor work, and would involve picking up eight to 12 panhandlers a day to perform them.
While the committee overwhelmingly agreed they needed to find ways to help the homeless population find work, Margaret Anderson, a program analyst for the Urban League of Greater Madison, said her organization already provides training services — and for free.
“We offer the full range of services to people to get out of that hole,” Anderson said.
Anderson suggested the Urban League partner up with the sponsors of the resolution to find ways to expand those services to those in need.
The resolution passed in a five to one vote.
Among other resolutions, the committee also voted to approve a ten-year agreement between the city of Madison, Dane County and the University of Wisconsin authorizing the Dane County Narcotics Task Force.
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The resolution passed with five votes in favor and one abstention.
The language of the resolution, particularly that associated with targeting users, concerned some of the committee members.
“I was always under the impression [the task force] was about going after gangs, sellers and distributors, but the language talks a lot about users and I thought they weren’t those who we were targeting,” Konkel said.
Instead of treating substance abuse as a law enforcement issue, Konkel said the task force should focus on targeting it as a medical issue.
But Lt. Jason Freedman said, without any hesitancy, the task force does not target or focus on users. But they do recognize there are issues broader than law enforcement, Freedman added.
While the task force is working on the long-term goal of getting substance abusers into treatment, they are also focused on stopping those who are doing harm.
“Were focused on targeting those making a profit off the misery,” Freedman.
Recognizing the heroin epidemic as a public health issue, Freedman pointed to the various initiatives Madison Police Department has piloted in an effort to combat opioid addiction.
Most recently, MPD launched the MARI program, which offers non-violent offenders who commit addiction-fueled crimes a chance at treatment.
“I like to think we can walk and chew gum at the same time,” Freedman said. “While we need to be getting the treatment for people who need it, we also have to do something with individuals that are bringing lethal loads of drugs in into our community.”