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Madison City Council Makes Right Decision, Occupy Camp Will Be Closed

April 18, 2012

To have as long a meeting as took place last night over the issue of whether to close the unsightly and problem plagued Occupy encampment on East Washington might be one reason why more people do not venture into serving on the common council.

To have a few alders use the issue of trying to keep the camp open for a couple more months when the facts are all clearly directed at why it must close was a waste of time and effort. 

While there is a need to deal with homeless people, a most troubling problem that needs a real solution, there is also a time and place to contemplate ideas on how best to handle this social problem.  Pulling a theatrical move by trying to keep the Occupy camp from closing at this late date was not a serious move to deal with the homeless issue.  This move angered more people than help shine a light on the issue of being homeless, and that is sad. 

I am not sure what was in the mind of a few alders last night who wished to extend the life of this camp, but am glad that wisdom finally prevailed on the final vote.

The Madison City Council voted not to extend an April 30 deadline for Occupy Madison dispersal as the group’s legal hurdles piled up.

For the second consecutive week, members of Occupy Madison pressed the City Council to allow their encampment to continue, even if it meant moving. Council members, however, voted unanimously against granting an extension because of zoning violations and potential problems receiving state approval.

Alds. Marsha Rummel, Lisa Subeck and Brian Solomon on Monday proposed a resolution to let Occupy Madison stay for a limited time on the city-owned, vacant asphalt lot on the north side of the 800 block while the city explored ways to deal with homeless issues. But after learning that Occupy Madison will no longer qualify for a state temporary camping permit at that site after April 30, an amendment was made Tuesday night to change the location of the camp.

City Attorney Michael May on Tuesday issued a memo saying Occupy Madison’s temporary dwellings will no longer qualify for a state temporary camping permit after April 30.

The campers, many of them homeless, have been staying at the site in tents and other temporary shelters since October and had agreed to leave by April 30.

Under state law, a temporary dwelling cannot be occupied more than four continuous months in a 12-month period, in this case the first four months of the year, May said.

Subeck, who was spearheading the effort, said she was disappointed the city could not at least ask the state for an extension, but understood that it was an uphill battle.

“It’s really frustrating to look people in the faces, who I know are struggling,” she said.

Mayor Paul Soglin, who strongly opposed an extension at the current site or relocation to another city-owned property, became the target of several Occupy supporters during Tuesday’s public hearing.

“Some of these people have severe mental problems, but they are human beings and they need a place to live. … You want to evict these people without giving them any type of place to go to. That is highly irresponsible. We are serving a need right here,” said occupier David Peters.

Soglin responded later in the meeting by addressing poverty beyond the Occupy camp. He pointed to the rising number of students in Madison schools living below the poverty line.

“The reality is that we are a magnet for people in need. … That’s why we can’t get ahead of the curve,” he said.

Soglin said the city needed to focus more on permanent housing solutions.

Police and fire department officials had expressed some concern with extending Occupy’s permit. Despite the movement’s attempts to run its own community, Police Chief Noble Wray said trends towards increased calls to the site and a growing number of people in the encampment have created some police concerns.

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