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Person lying outside City-County Building

A homeless person sleeps outside of the City-County Building in Downtown Madison.

After the Madison City Council rejected a proposal meant to keep people from lying down or sleeping outside downtown four months ago, Mayor Paul Soglin is keeping his word and reintroducing an identical ordinance.

The proposal would prohibit individuals from lying down or sleeping on a public sidewalk in the Central Business District between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m. The affected area includes the Capitol Square, State Street and the surrounding streets but does not apply to public benches.

“Sleeping or lying down is not the customary or intended use of sidewalks or other public rights of way,” the proposed ordinance states. “Persons who sleep or lie down in these areas of the (Central Business District) impede the ability of residents and visitors to have access to businesses, restaurants, shops, and interfere with the delivery of goods and services, and otherwise harm the general welfare.”

Soglin has said enforcing a time limit is needed to keep public spaces open for daily city street maintenance services and to ensure easier access to downtown businesses and government offices.

Those who violate the ordinance would be subject to a fine of $10 for the first offense and $25 for a second offense.

In September, the same ordinance failed by a vote of 11-7. Soglin proposed a similar ban in 2015 that would have limited people from sleeping on sidewalks in the Central Business District between 5:30 a.m. and 1 a.m.

Council President and District 4 Ald. Mike Verveer supported the ordinance in September and said he plans to again.

“I do think sadly it’s something we should have available to us as another tool to deal with acute issues, albeit localized issues, but the acute issues that have occurred at the top of State Street,” Verveer said.

Upper State Street, particularly the area next to the Wisconsin Veteran’s Museum at 30 W. Mifflin St., has been a problem area for the city.

“It’s become a gathering place, of course, but it’s not just people hanging out and gathering there,” Verveer said. “The issue is that many of the individuals that are laying down on the sidewalk at all hours of the day.”

Verveer said the city has tried a number of strategies including greater police presence and creating food cart spaces. The 2017 budget also designates funding for homeless street teams whose efforts would be focused downtown.

In 2015, the mayor called for the removal of 44 stones in a public art installation at the intersection of State, North Carroll and West Mifflin streets known as Philosopher’s Grove to address behavior issues and loitering.

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Ald. Rebecca Kemble, District 18, said she is even more opposed to the ordinance now than when it was first introduced and called the proposed ordinance "socially regressive." To her knowledge, there have not been issues when city maintenance staff have asked individuals to move in order to clean the streets. 

"We don’t need to outlaw sleeping," Kemble said. 

Homeless advocate Brenda Konkel, who is also the executive director of the Tenant Resource Center, said bans don’t solve the root of homelessness issues.

“If we had adequate services, people wouldn’t be sleeping on sidewalks,” Konkel said. “You can't legislate this away. It’s not going to solve anything.

The ordinance is on Tuesday’s City Council agenda for introduction, meaning that alders will not be discussing the issue this week.

Share your opinion on this topic by sending a letter to the editor to tctvoice@madison.com. Include your full name, hometown and phone number. Your name and town will be published. The phone number is for verification purposes only. Please keep your letter to 250 words or less.

Abigail Becker joined The Capital Times in 2016, where she primarily covers city and county government. She previously worked for the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism and the Wisconsin State Journal.