The decision to run for District 8 alder came as an epiphany to John Terry Jr. One day, Terry went out on his balcony and sat outside in the cold. Memories came back to him about his time being homeless — the cold, loneliness and feeling of being an outsider.
That’s when Terry realized he had to do something.
Terry, though originally from Janesville, has lived in Madison for eight years. He was homeless for three years, one of which was in Madison in 2011. While homeless, Terry also struggled with addiction and staying sober.
“It was a long struggle for me to become sober because of my living conditions,” Terry said. “Right now, I’m very grateful for my sobriety, I’m very grateful for my life, I’m just grateful period.”
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If elected, Terry wants to draw more attention to outreach programs in Madison that help the homeless stay sober, find a shelter to stay at or get proper treatment for mental health.
The Access Community Health Centers in Madison are a great resource but people need to be informed about them, he said.
“Mental health issues are way underdiagnosed … people need to get past the perception that disabilities can always be seen,” Terry said.
When it comes to affordable housing for the homeless, Terry wants to give them a reason to stay there. Otherwise, he said, it’s a vicious cycle.
When Terry moved into Porchlight three years ago, having a safe, clean apartment was the final step to his sobriety. He finally had his own room and bathroom and he didn’t want to lose it all. Terry believes he can offer a different perspective than what is already present on City Council when it comes to dealing with the homeless situation because he understands the hard realities facing them.
Terry also wants to focus on affordable housing for students, considering District 8 is home to many students. If elected, Terry said he would want to find a student or students and work with them hand-in-hand to see what issues need to be addressed.
“I’m willing to listen and talk about what needs to be done and what can be done,” Terry said. “Like I said before, I don’t have all the answers, and I don’t pretend to have all the answers.”
Ald. Zach Wood, District 8, who is running for re-election and debated Terry, found the idea of having a student liaison to be troubling. Wood said he believes the alder should have a better connection with the students instead of looking to a liaison for such a large population.
“I graduated [from the University of Wisconsin] in 2015,” Wood said. “I understand those needs, I understand the situation so many of constituents find themselves in, and I think that’s extremely important.”
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Wood is looking to continue initiatives he started during his first term, including affordable housing for students and across the city, campus safety and continuing to provide young people with a voice at City Hall. He is looking to take steps toward helping the homeless with the Housing First model. Housing First looks to provide long-term housing before helping residents with other goals, such as finding a job or financial literacy.
“I’ve learned how to get things done, how the process works … and I think that allows me to hit the ground running from day one.” Wood said.
The Madison Common Council election will be held April 4.