This fall, the City Council unanimously supported two measures, one to create an “urban campground” at Dairy Drive (RES 21-00621) another to secure a contract for a hotel supported by housing navigation and social service support (RES -21-00770).

Together, these actions allowed the City to move swiftly to provide safe alternatives for unsheltered homeless people, prioritizing those who had been camping at Reindahl Park the longest. In doing so, they met the Council’s prerequisite, set earlier this year, for bringing an end to the use of Reindahl Park for overnight camping.

The effort to set up and utilize the Dairy Drive and hotel alternatives was a truly collaborative one. City Community Development Division staff, in partnership with outreach teams worked individually with campers to explain the options available to them, make choices that worked for them and assist with their moves. Beginning in mid-November, 30 people moved to the Dairy Drive campground which offers climate-controlled cabins, bathrooms and showers, electricity and professional, on-site support staff with whom clients can work to help secure more permanent housing.

In December, approximately 40 additional people moved over to the nearby Madison Plaza hotel where they, too, will have access to on-site social service providers who can link people to housing and other supports.

As people moved from Reindahl Park, City Parks staff began the process of cleaning up – the first step in returning the facility to its intended use.  That process started with tagging left-over belongings, including tents, and carefully removing them to storage, as called for under City ordinance.  Stored possessions will remain there for 45 days after which they will be disposed of unless claimed.

A deeper clean-up is also underway at the Park to ensure its future safe use.  That work is being done by a contracted firm that specializes in large and difficult jobs like this, and will provide for the proper handling of hazardous materials.

With the culmination of these efforts, overnight camping will no longer be permitted at Reindahl Park and parks ordinances will be enforced. We encourage anyone who may experience unsheltered homelessness to take advantage of available shelter space in our congregate facilities. They are clean, safe and spacious alternatives that have served many members of our community in times of need.

The actions we’ve just taken come in the nick of time.  While the weather has been mostly cooperative thus far, we know what lies ahead.  As unsafe as conditions have been at Reindahl Park, they would soon have become much more so. I am grateful for the Team City effort that has helped 70 people secure a safe, warm place to stay out of the cold and snow.  And to do so in a patient and compassionate way, without the need for enforcement actions. Thanks in particular to our Community Development staff who work with the unsheltered every day, as well as Parks, Public Health, Engineering, Building Inspection, Planning, Finance, City Attorney’s Office, Streets, and Police and Fire who responded to the park for countless calls from campers for assistance over the summer. Thanks also to the Common Council for its unanimous support for moving forward and the leadership of Alder Figueroa Cole and Alder Jael Currie.

I also want to thank residents and businesses near Reindahl Park and across the City that have called my office to voice their displeasure, urge action and sometimes express support as the City wrestled with this difficult issue. Thank you for your patience as we sought solutions  and for your ongoing concern for unhoused persons living in unsafe and unsanitary conditions. We know this work is not yet done. We are committed to helping those who have exited Reindahl to secure more permanent housing.  And we are well aware that there are others in our community who remain unsheltered and need assistance. We continue our efforts to prevent more people from becoming homeless by using federal funds to help those who need assistance paying their rents through the Dane CORE 2.0 Program.  Finally, this winter, the City will turn its attention to securing a location for a permanent men’s shelter that will provide the services people need to get connected to work and housing. We are excited that the County budget envisions investments in tiny houses and the conversion of a hotel to affordable housing – ventures the City also supports. Stay tuned for more developments on these critical issues.

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