Advocates question if city homeless policy leading to more street deaths

Advocates question if city homeless policy leading to more street deaths

Nearly three months after it became illegal for Madison’s homeless to live outside of the City-County Building, some advocates are concerned the rule change could be causing more street deaths.

During an annual celebration of life on Madison’s Capitol Square, 20 candles were lit celebrating the lives of those who were homeless and died in 2015.

“We heard more names this year than we’ve heard in past years, and it’s really alarming,” Dane Co. Supervisor Heidi Wegleitner said.

Wegleitner says the rule change means a less visible homeless population is now less likely to seek help or services.

“I think its important folks realize how desperate this situation is,” Wegleitner said. “And how many folks have serious health conditions who are discharged from the hospital to the streets.”

Gloria Hays, who lit a candle for her daughter Kathy, says the 38-year-old who struggled for years with mental illness died less than 24 hours after being released from the hospital in October.

“I know that my daughter was raised in a home with a lot of love. And because of her mental illness she just fell through the cracks. She did not get the supportive services she truly needed.”

Hays says there is a lot of room for city and county leaders to improve how the homeless are treated.

“And I hope that things like this, people become aware of it a little bit more. Sometimes it just feels hopeless. But if each of us just care a little bit and speak up a little louder so that people don’t have such a stigma about homelessness, I think we can make a big change.”

Madison Mayor Paul Soglin did not return an interview request.

At the time the law changed in October, Soglin called it “marvelous,” saying a large group of drug addicts, who were not interested in treatment or services, had left town, services had not diminished, and the number of police and ambulance calls had dropped.