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Group calls for Madison to postpone December closure of Reindahl Park encampment

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Homeless - Reindahl Park

Jay Gonstead packed up his belongings at Reindahl Park earlier this week in preparation to move to the city's new homeless shelter encampment on the Southeast Side. Roughly 75 people have been living at the Reindahl encampment.

A small volunteer group is calling on the city of Madison to postpone the closure of the Reindahl Park homeless encampment and let individuals continue camping there through the winter.

With new options for sheltering people this winter, the city has posted notices that camping will no longer be allowed at Reindahl after Dec. 6, and that tents, other structures and personal belongings must be removed by Dec. 9.

“We ask that the city halt this eviction,” the group, Community Action Against Reindahl Eviction, said in a statement Wednesday.

But Linette Rhodes, the city’s community development grants supervisor, said the city’s goal is to move people out of the park to locations where they will be better protected from the cold and snow, as well as from people who might try to take advantage of them at the Reindahl Park encampment.

The now-illegal Reindahl encampment, which has had more than 70 campers, has been declared unsanitary, unhealthy and unsafe, with attacks, overdoses, a stabbing and a shooting. Rhodes said city parks are “not meant to be a place for habitation.”

The city now has two alternative options for people to shelter this winter: a new encampment of 30 tiny shelters on Dairy Drive and 35 rooms at the two-story Madison Plaza Hotel, across the street from Reindahl Park. Moves to the Dairy Drive location have already begun, and individuals at Reindahl are expected to start moving into the hotel around Dec. 1 and finish in about a week.

“Not only are they moving into a place where they are better protected from our extreme weather, they are going to be better connected with those support services,” Rhodes said, noting that both locations will have staff to connect people with permanent housing.

But one of the members of the opposition group, Pearl Foster, said the two options only have 65 spots for individuals, which doesn’t meet the need of the more than 70 people who have been staying at Reindahl.

Other encampment locations, such as the Starkweather Creek area or Highway 30, are “particularly unsafe” because emergency vehicles cannot access those areas, Foster said. And it shouldn’t be a problem to keep Reindahl open during the winter because it’s not used for winter sports, she noted.

“Forcing people into the woods, under bridges and in corners of parking garages is more dangerous than keeping Reindahl open to the remaining campers for the winter,” Foster said.

While camping at Starkweather Creek will still be allowed, Rhodes said, the city doesn’t want anyone sleeping outside during the winter.

Rhodes said city staff “are pretty confident that all the campers identified” as staying at Reindahl Park as of late October “will have a place to go as we close down” the park.

City staff plan to “strongly encourage” those who are newly homeless to stay at the temporary men’s homeless shelter or other shelters, Rhodes said. She can’t say where everyone will end up, but some may get connected with friends and others might find permanent housing.

“Our job right now is to create legal places and encourage individuals to use those legal places to shelter during the cold weather,” she said.

Rhodes said the city plans to move forward with closing the Reindahl Park encampment Dec. 6. Once personal items are removed by Dec. 9, city staff will start cleaning up the park so it can be used again by the public in the spring.


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