Reindahl Park houseless campers can stay for now while City weighs legal options

MADISON, Wis. — After close to a 10-hour City Council meeting, council members voted unanimously to delay a decision on a proposed resolution that would prevent people living at Reindahl Park from being evicted.

The decision, made around 4:30 a.m. Wednesday, came after hours of public comment and advice from the City’s Attorneys that there were too many legal issues that still needed to be considered before a final decision was made.

Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway called it a “complicated legal landscape.”

Assistant City Attorney Doran Viste cited a number of legal issues with pushing people out of Reindahl Park and voting on a proposed resolution that would prevent eviction without considering legal ramifications. Viste said the legal issues ranged from legally defined campgrounds, zoning issues, public health concerns, the authority of parks commissioners, the use of temporary permissible encampments, etc.

Several community members in support of item 26 spoke to council about why folks should be allowed to stay at Reindahl Park.

One community member said, “Uprooting these folks from the only semblance of a home they have known over the last couple of months is not a viable short term solution. I am disgusted and appalled that we continue to push our houseless community members further and further away from the resources centered in the downtown area.”

Another community member asked, “Will you stand up for the most marginalized people in our community or will you sit comfortable in the privilege of your home as you willingly let others suffer?”

The comments came after Alder Regina Vidaver (District 5) filed a motion to skip public comments saying that many of the registered speakers had already spoken at a previous committee meeting the night before and it would not be “a productive use of the public’s time nor this body’s time to hear the same or similar comments, particular since this resolution as written is deeply problematic.”

Alder Juliana Bennett, who sponsored the original proposal, strongly opposed Vidaver’s motion saying that registrants had been waiting seven hours as council members went through every other agenda item before getting to item 26 and that it was their public responsibility to hear their comments on an issue that had caused so much controversy in the community.

The motion lost 18-1 and public comments ensued for the next two hours.

Bennett’s proposal, which had seven co-sponsors, was revised at a commission meeting Monday, asked city staff to prevent the eviction of those experiencing homelessness at Reindahl Park, look for alternative TPE locations, change the citing criteria for TPEs, authorize City Council to designate and revoke TPEs, require specific amenities like water and bathrooms at all TPEs, etc.

Viste said the proposal’s requests could designate the TPEs as permanent legal campgrounds, which are not allowed in the City of Madison.

Alder Grant Foster (District 15) , who co-sponsored Bennett’s proposal, said he was happy that the referral provided a temporary solution of not evicting the homeless folks at Reindahl Park for now, but a longer-term issue remains. He said, “The question of statutory authority around campgrounds, permitting and how can we go about making some place in the city legal for people to sleep if they don’t have a home.”

The City’s motion to refer the issue now places the matter in the hands of the Equal Opportunities Committee, Public Health, the Parks Department, the Planning Committee, and the City County Homeless Issues Committee. City Council will reconsider the proposal in several months once a more solidified plan is worked out. In the meantime, city staff have been instructed to not evict anyone from Reindahl Park.