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City officials want those in tent encampment out of Madison park

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MADISON (WKOW) - City officials are evicting several dozen people in a tent encampment from a Madison park as advocates for the homeless scramble to find the displaced more permanent and warmer shelter.

While officials designated certain park space as available for emergency housing use early on in the pandemic, McPike Park in the city's center never received that designation. But throngs of people have pitched tents and used park space, given its proximity to downtown, transportation and social services. There's been little effort to dissuade people taking shelter in tents despite the lack of authorization until now.

"We want to draw this encampment, which has never been authorized, to a close and we wanted to do it at a time when there would be few people there," says Madison Community Development Director Jim O'Keefe.

"We wanted to afford those that might still be there adequate time for outreach staff to work with campers to make other arrangements," O'Keefe says.

Chloe Hausmann spent six months in a tent in the park. Hausmann says she recently was accepted for space in one of Madison's Tiny House villages and also found work. "It's a blessing," Hausmann says.

Hausmann spent Wednesday trying to dig some of her belongings out of the park's considerable snow pack. She says she still feels connected to the the community and its remaining tent campers. "And my concern is people losing fingers and toes," Hausmann says.

"We're out here handing out hand warmers, sleeping bags," says Porchlight Outreach Manager Ben Jackson. "I'm handing out warm boots."

Jackson says throughout the pandemic, his social service organization and many other groups have donated food, water, and supplies to those using tents in McPike Park.

With additional Madison shelter space as a result of social distancing in facilities, and with officials securing additional hotel rooms for the homeless, people involved in the park, tent living have been transitioning to other settings.

But Jackson says about fifty people who were helped to leave tents during the area's recent, cold snap are approaching the end of their hotel stays.

"The end date is Monday," Jackson says. "So they're either going to be back (at McPike Park), or somewhere else, another park, or in their vehicle somewhere in Madison. So they're just going back on the street," Jackson says.

O'Keefe says ending the tent encampment at McPike Park was inevitable.

"There was nothing magical about February 28," O'Keefe says. "But the situation at McPike has been growing increasingly unsafe and untenable, for campers and neighbors, so we thought it prudent to act."

At an authorized, tent encampment at Reindahl Park, there have been at least two deaths, including one authorities say involved a beating. Jackson says the deaths have led to people deserting the tent living there and leaving less than a half dozen tent dwellers.

O'Keefe did not specify events or conditions responsible for McPike Park's deterioration of safety.

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Tony Galli

Reporter, WKOW

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