Dairy Drive campground residents settle in as Reindahl Park encampment nears shutdown

MADISON, Wis. — Dozens of people are settling into their city-sponsored tiny homes on Dairy Drive as Madison officials move forward with plans to shut down the Reindahl Park encampment.

Monday will be the last day camping is allowed at the park with all belongings needing to be removed by Thursday.

Jay Gonstead was one of the first residents to make the move from a tent at Reindahl Park to an 8×8 home on Dairy Drive about three weeks ago.

“Got a mini-fridge, got a camp chair because a buddy comes down and we sit and watch movies,” he said. “It’s pretty simple. You really don’t need much in this situation.”

Gonstead said at first he, like many, wasn’t so sure about the city-sponsored campground mainly because of its non-central location, but after a tour of the space, he had a change of heart.

“Just totally impressive you know–everybody thought it,” he said. “There wasn’t really a bad word spoken, you know. It was like when can we move in?”

Though it took him some time to get used to the new campground, now he is one of 27 people calling the sheltered campground home.

“It’s your own space again, you know I was a homeowner. I owned my own home outright,” he said. “To go from owning your own home to a tent and motel hopping here and there, then all of a sudden you have your own space again–I can call this home.”

According to the site’s Project Coordinator Brenda Konkel, with only three units left, the campground already has a waitlist but city officials are prioritizing the people at Reindahl Park.

Each unit offers electricity and most importantly heat. As for bathrooms and showers, those are in a separate building on the property.

“Showers. That is one of the first things I did,” said Gonstead. “When you see the people come out of the bathroom with a smile on their face, it’s cuz we were going a long time without showers.”

Konkel also said the site offers support services to help people transition out of homelessness and is staffed day and night with counselors for mental health and drug and alcohol addictions.

Resident Hope Knapp said that newfound structure is exactly what she needed.

 “I’ve been able to get my medical back on track,” she said. “Sometime next week or the week after, I’m hoping to move into a regular apartment.”

The length of stay for each resident varies on their individual needs and though Knapp seems to be on her way out soon she’s just grateful for the help getting back up.

“To have someplace that you know can walk out that gate and walk back in–you got the keys and at the end of the day you’re going to be sleeping in a warm bed instead of a cold tent,” she said. “It means a lot.”

City officials said the campsite is a temporary solution but is scheduled to stay on Dairy Drive for at least a year.

According to Konkel, there are still 100 or more people sleeping outside in Madison.