A group of approximately 25 homeless people and housing advocates gathered with signs and bull horns on the steps of city hall Thursday to protest city staff discarding homeless people’s personal belongings.
The rally was a response to a Madison Police Department officer asking Mall Maintenance staff, which cleans city streets, to remove homeless peoples' property he found in the concourse mall area between the Wisconsin Veteran’s Museum, 30 W. Mifflin St., and State Street Wednesday, according to Madison Police Department Spokesperson Joel DeSpain.
DeSpain said in a statement the items on the street included grocery and trash bags, alcohol containers, bed rolls, suitcases and cardboard boxes, which appeared to be abandoned.
The officer contacted Mall Maintenance staff, a city group that cleans city streets, and requested the property be removed, according to DeSpain.
But city Streets Department employee Carrie Riddle said police followed the trucks to a city dump facility on Olin Avenue and retrieved the personal belongings, so there is a chance people could retrieve their possessions.
Although DeSpain said the officer on duty attempted to track down the owners of the possessions, Duane Dahl, Jr., who is currently homeless, said police made no effort to contact him.
“[The officer] owes everyone an apology, and he owes us all a lot of money or our stuff back,” Dahl said.
Heather Welch, who has been homeless for about five months, said Madison is a difficult city in which to be homeless.
“It’s constant harassment all the time from people walking around the streets looking at us funny to other people stealing our stuff, and now on top of it, even the city people, the police … are throwing our stuff away,” Welch said.
Chief Noble Wray said in a police statement it is a “tough job” to manage public spaces where personal property is frequently left unattended.
“The MPD’s intent was not to deprive anyone of their personal property but to enforce the law and maintain safety,” DeSpain said in a statement.
Tenant Resource Center Executive Director Brenda Konkel said the city’s procedure for removing abandoned property is unacceptable.
“It’s a violation of homeless people’s rights,” Konkel said.
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