After just three months, Madison is closing its primitive storage area for belongings of homeless people behind the Madison Municipal Building due to alleged illicit activity and health concerns.
The homeless and their advocates criticized the move, noting the homeless now have no place Downtown to store personal belongings, with the closest location now the supervised storage the city pays for at the Social Justice Center, 1202 Williamson St.
Until spring, the homeless had been storing belongings on the front steps of the City-County Building on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.
In May, the city and Dane County determined that the unattended bags presented security, health and aesthetic concerns and erected the two unsupervised, covered, fenced-in storage areas within the Municipal Building’s parking lot at the corner of Pinckney and Wilson streets.
The new facility didn’t work out, said Enis Ragland, aide to Mayor Paul Soglin. “We closed it because the facility was being used for sex, for drug use and for sleeping,” Ragland said. “It is filthy.”
Former Ald. Brenda Konkel, a leading advocate for the homeless, said the site failed because the city and county let it. The city and county didn’t provide any shelving, and belongings were getting wet, she noted in her blog. Some advocates put pallets on the ground and tarps on the sides. But items were still getting stolen or soaked and were hard to find without organization, she wrote.
“They had a stupid idea. It didn’t work out. They’re not providing any real alternative for people,” Konkel said, noting the Social Justice Center is 16 blocks away with no reliable transportation for the homeless.
Ragland said advocates had promised to help maintain the facility behind the Municipal Building, but it didn’t happen. “We don’t have means to staff the facility,” he said. “Without supervision, there were likely to be problems.”
Belongings were to be removed from the facility by 2 p.m. Wednesday, with the city considering anything remaining as lost property and collected and bagged by city staff and stored off site for up to 45 days. Items that are worth less than $50, hazardous, perishable or with no sentimental, medical or legal value could be disposed immediately.
The city’s sign, however, provides inaccurate information on when the homeless can bring belongings to the Social Justice Center, which is actually open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. seven days a week, Konkel said.
The city needs a modest facility, perhaps 10 feet by 20 feet, with lockers and supervision Downtown, Konkel said.
Solutions are coming, Ragland said, noting the county is exploring a Downtown site for a day shelter that will have storage, and the city is examining the potential use of space at a city storage and parking facility at the corner of West Doty and South Fairchild streets as a replacement for the men’s shelter at Grace Episcopal Church on Capitol Square.
In recent years, problems with the homeless inside and outside the City-County Building have been a thorny issue for city and county officials.
In the past year, Soglin has twice unsuccessfully sought to ban the homeless from sleeping outside the building, with the City-County Liaison Committee narrowly defeating the mayor’s most recent proposal in early June to stop loitering on the grounds after hours and on weekends and holidays.