Community activists ask for joint action on longstanding homelessness issues

Roger Harris speaks of his experience on the streets, noting a tendency of community members to avoid contact with those who are homeless.

Roger Harris speaks of his experience on the streets, noting a tendency of community members to avoid contact with those who are homeless.

Image By: Will Chizek

A small group of community members, many of them homeless, met at the top of State Street and marched to the City-County Building Thursday, asking city and county leaders to address the root causes of homelessness, sooner rather than later.

The protest came a week after Madison Mayor Paul Soglin released a letter promising immediate “administrative action” to end homeless “encampments” in the State Street and Capitol Square area.

Philosopher’s Grove, where the protesters initially convened, will be one of the places where the homeless will no longer be allowed to sleep if Soglin’s proposal is implemented.

Community member Derrick McCann came to show his solidarity with those impacted by what he called “an ongoing problem.”

“I just came out here to stand for change,” McCann said. “This homeless and poverty situation has to be a big topic here in Wisconsin.”

Soglin’s announced “administrative action” was not addressed during his re-election campaign, surprising community activists when the letter was released.

“[The letter] certainly sparked a lot of conversation,” Tenant Resource Center Executive Director Brenda Konkel said. “Unfortunately, I think there was a lot of misinformation in there, and [the mayor’s] solutions are very short-sighted.”

Protesters planned on ending the event with a “sleep out” on the City-County Building’s steps, but the lower turnout prompted only the homeless who have been living outside to remain.

In part, the low turnout was attributed to Soglin hosting a community input session with many of the involved grassroot activists earlier in the week, according to Konkel.

For Roger Harris, a homeless man originally from Chicago, a lack of action from city and county officials on the issues of affordable housing, jobs and more shelter space is discouraging.

Harris disagreed with the proposed city plans, which included a removal of all luggage and personal items left unattended outside the City-County Building this Monday.

“I think it’s wrong. I think they’re treating us like we’re animals,” Harris said. “Some of the people in the community look at us like we’re crazy. [But] we bleed the same blood. We’re just in a different situation.”

Echoing Harris, Konkel said what activists are asking for is not changing. She said Madison lacks a daytime shelter, enough affordable housing to meet demands and public restrooms and showers.

“It’s the same problems we’ve always had,” Konkel said. “We pulled out our signs for today’s rally, and they were the same signs we used two years ago.”

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