When it comes to governing there needs to be a balance between the heart and the mind. While it is essential that there be a strong commitment to decency and compassion in public policy it must not come at the total expense of common sense. Yet, as of late, the City of Madison has erred to the point of absurdity when dealing with the homeless campers at Reindahl Park on the far Eastside.
If one has not driven by and considered the issues first hand, I would encourage my readers to do so. The 91-acre park, at 1818 Portage Road has become the site of an out-of-control situation. The clutter is astonishing. The drug activity is reported to be high in the park. The safety factor for locals who might want to use the park–as a park–speaks for itself.
It has been most disconcerting over the weeks to watch this behavior play out as the campers have expanded in numbers and their area of ‘homesteading’ within the park. The number of homeless campers at Reindahl has grown to more than 40 people, including several essentially living out of their vehicles. But equally unsettling is the lack of ability from our city officials and staff to adhere to the existing laws and procedures for the safety and maintenance of our city parks.
While I understand that during the 2020 pandemic year there were issues that played out and parks, at times, were used in a fashion not aligned with the norm. But no one can point to the same issues now allowing for the misuse of Reindahl Park.
We should all be concerned with homelessness, and the core reasons for many of them to be caught up in a distressing economic situation. Drug and alcohol abuse, along with mental health issues are serious matters that require both a public policy solution, but also a willingness and desire on the part of the homeless person to find a resolution.
But having said that does not then allow for anyone who is homeless to take over a city park. The consequences are not what the residents who live in the area should have to encounter. Madison Alderperson Gary Halverson, 17th District, who represents the site made that most clear.
“Parents will not allow their children to go to the park as it is not a safe and welcoming place,” he said. “I have many reports of harassment and erratic behavior directed toward women and families trying to use the park. The Reindahl Community Garden is the second largest in the city and is heavily used by economically challenged families who supplement their food needs with their garden plots. The gardeners have experienced intimidation as well as inappropriate behavior.”
No one is being harsh or out-of-bounds by asking that the city simply follow existing laws and keep the parks aligned with the needs of the ones who pay the taxes. The same folks are also willing to pay the taxes to make for shelters and programming to assist those who are homeless.
And so it goes.