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Occupy Madison sets up camp again on East Wash
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Occupy Madison sets up camp again on East Wash

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A familiar sight from last spring returned to East Washington Avenue over the weekend as members of Occupy Madison set up their camp again almost six months after the city shut it down.

About a dozen people have been staying in a handful of tents on the 800 block of East Washington since Saturday, the same campsite the city cleared May 1 and Mayor Paul Soglin called "an intolerable situation."

The group had spent the summer looking for a place that would provide shelter for homeless men and women, said former Madison City Council member Brenda Konkel. With Dane County's campgrounds closing at the end of October, she said they have "no legal place" to go and returned to East Washington Avenue, where they stayed last winter.

"A whole year has gone by, and nothing has changed," Konkel said.

The city of Madison has not yet made clear how it plans to handle the renewed camp.

Soglin said the old site had become a center for crime, comparing it to a troubled apartment building with the city as its landlord. His spokeswoman, Katie Crawley, said the mayor is meeting with police and public health officials to find other options.

"It's not like this was a complete shock, but we need to find a better alternative," Crawley said.

Konkel wrote in a blog post that police have visited the site, which is set up without a permit, but had not asked anyone to leave. She said the city has not indicated it has any immediate plans to break up the camp, but that could change.

Although Occupy Madison began as the local version of national protests against economic inequality, it later became a camp and community for the homeless. It is now entirely dedicated to improving what members say is an inadequate support system for Madison's homeless residents.

Members of the camp don't see it as a permanent solution and instead consider the lot a place to stay until better options for daytime and overnight shelters are available.

Bundled in a hooded sweatshirt and sitting in a camping chair a few feet from his tent, homeless Occupy resident Ronnie Barbett said he hopes the city will eventually offer a better alternative.

"It's getting cold," Barbett said. "We need to be in a shelter."

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