Madison mayor says bench time for homeless should be limited

Madison Mayor Paul Soglin proposed a way to deal with the issue of homelessness outside his office and other parts of downtown Thursday.

“We’ve created a circus atmosphere where anything goes,” Soglin said.

Admitting that the city could not arrest their way out of the problem, Soglin told reporters he will introduce an ordinance to Tuesday that will make staying at a bench for more than an hour at a time a fineable offense.

The change in rules would only apply to the Central Business District, including the Capitol square, State Street and some of the surrounding areas downtown.

As a part of this ordinance, people would not be able to sit on a bench for more than an hour at a time from 5:30 a.m. to 1 a.m. On top of that, lying down on a public bench wouldn’t be allowed.

Certain surfaces near city offices would also be off limits from 5:30 a.m. to 11 p.m.

Soglin also wants to ban anyone from sleeping on public sidewalks and right-of-ways from 5:30 a.m. to 1 a.m.

“Every individual is going to have a choice. The choice is to go into supervised housing, whether it’s transitional or permanent, leave town, or be institutionalized,” Soglin said.

Soglin said a number of people staying outside the City-County Building turned down housing opportunities.

“People who are supporting the homeless have got to take responsibility for the consequences of what’s going on here,” Soglin said.

Homeless advocates said fining people who stay on benches and other public spaces will only make the problem mobile, not get rid of it.

Former city alder Brenda Konkel said it’s time for groups to sit down and talk about real solutions, rather than continue bringing up “silly ideas.”

“They’re not doing what they would do if this were the business community,” Konkel said. “They’re treating the homeless community more as if they’re their children instead of treating them like the adults that they are and asking them, ‘What will work for you?'”

Karen Andro is the chair of the Homeless Services Consortium and runs outreach services at First United Methodist Church. She has more questions than answers when it comes to the mayor’s proposal.

“Are they going to be getting a ticket, and further, they can’t then pay that ticket and they’re going to be bail jumping and then are they going to be back in jail? And is that solving the issue, addressing the issue? Or is it just making it so the mayor or anybody else doesn’t have to look at a homeless person or walk by a homeless person?” Andro said.

Madison police would be in charge of enforcing the ordinance if it were implemented.

Konkel doubts there’s enough support in council to pass the new rules.