City clearing out McPike Park homeless encampment to prepare for public reopen this spring

MADISON, Wis. — Dozens of tents, piles of clothes and scattered personal belongings are all that’s left at a homeless encampment at McPike park two weeks after the City ordered people who were staying there to clear the area by March 1.

The City of Madison Community Development Director Jim O’Keefe said McPike Park was never an approved area for a homeless encampment but the City allowed folks to stay there due to the ongoing homelessness issues many were experiencing. Two weeks ago, the City posted signs around the park notifying people to remove their personal belongings before crews came to clear the area.

On Monday, O’Keefe was joined by a handful of contracted crew members removing any items that were left abandoned at the park.

“The tents that are in tact will be place on palettes and stored,” O’Keefe said.

The City will store any salvageable items in storage for up to 45 days, however O’Keefe believes that not many of the items will be claimed due to significant water damage from being left out all winter.

The crews working at McPike Park also placed a fence around the area so they could continue to work on removing abandoned items while the park remains temporarily closed to the public.

News 3 Now spoke with homeless resident Eric Pottinger who was working on removing his belongings. Pottinger said he’s been living at McPike Park since last spring and it’s provided him with a safe space to go. Although it isn’t his choice to move his belongings, he said he understands why the City has asked residents to do so.

“It’s a little premature right now that they pushed us out this early before the snow melted. But it’s realistic I guess,” Pottinger said. “They were very even-handed the whole way.”

O’Keefe said at its peak times, there were about 40 people living at McPike Park. As of February 28, he believes only a few, if any, were still using the park.

O’Keefe said the City has worked with several community outreach groups to re-home anyone who was staying at McPike Park. He believes many are now staying in local hotels, shelters, tiny homes built by Occupy Madison, with friends and family or at other outdoor homeless encampments.

“This is not an area that is conducive to living,” O’Keefe said. “It’s not been a safe place for people using the camp. For months, we’ve been focused on this particular location and working with people using the park to find other accommodations.”

O’Keefe said they’ll need to wait until the snow melts to collect any items buried underneath and to wait for some of the items to thaw that are frozen to the surface of the snow.

O’Keefe said the City plans to open up the park to public access this spring.