Homeless people are included as a protected class in Madison following an overwhelming City Council override of Mayor Paul Soglin’s veto.
Soglin vetoed the council’s June 2 action that added homeless people as a class protected against discrimination. The city already prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex, race, religion, color, natural origin, citizenship status, age, handicap/disability, marital status, source of income, arrest or conviction records and more.
On Tuesday, council members voted 17-1 to override the veto. Ald. Paul Skidmore was the lone member to support the mayor’s veto, mainly citing procedural concerns.
Dozens of people showed up to register or speak in favor the override, but Soglin, defending his veto, dismissed the measure as “feel-good legislation.”
Soglin argued it is part of a legislative body of work that has cumulatively made homelessness worse in Madison and said it would have no measurable effect on the city’s homeless population.
His criticism was largely directed at the homeless people who camp out in front of the City-County Building. He accused people living there of not using allotted shelter nights, engaging in drinking and drug use on the property and having sex on the picnic tables where building employees eat.
“The number of homeless in this community should not be increasing and it is … We are on a death trip. We have a reputation for being very accommodating and that there are no rules,” he said. “They are not here for housing. They are not here for shelters and it’s time we face up to it.”
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Several council members challenged the mayor’s view, including Ald. Marsha Rummel, 6th District, who said Soglin has sent mixed signals by trying to consolidate homeless encampments at the building and providing a fenced area for people to store belongings.
Ald. Rebecca Kemble, 18th District, said Soglin’s reasoning for not adding homeless as a protected class was misguided. “I just don’t see where not passing this ordinance is going to make this behavior worse,” Kemble said.
City Attorney Michael May said that with the action business owners could still enact policies about things like restroom usage as long as those rules were applied equally. For example, if a business owner prohibited restroom usage by non-paying customers, both homeless and non-homeless individuals not using the business must be refused access to the amenity.
The public hearing, questioning and debate lasted nearly three hours.
The council also approved a pair of projects from T. Wall Enterprises.
In one, the council approved on a voice vote Terrence Wall's proposal to construct three buildings ranging from three to five stories on a 1.6-acre triangular parcel at the corner of Park Street and Fish Hatchery Road. The buildings would include 164 apartments and 174 parking stalls, 110 of which would be underground. The project includes 6,000 square feet of commercial space and 5,000 square feet of “live-work” space.
In the other, the council approved Wall’s amended project to replace a single-family home and detached barn/garage and build three four-story buildings with a total of 276 rental units plus a clubhouse and pool on a 14.6-acre site at 4103-4119 Portage Road. Both projects faced significant neighborhood opposition.