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Mayor suggests involuntarily commitment for homeless at Occupy site

Published On: Nov 08 2012 06:36:18 PM CST   Updated On: Nov 09 2012 08:15:14 AM CST

Madison Mayor Paul Soglin is suggesting that involuntarily commitment is a possible solution to the problem of homeless people camping at a city-owned site, as plans for a day shelter move more slowly than first thought.

Police on Thursday told a group of about 25 homeless people who set up camp on East Washington Avenue they will need to leave by 3 p.m. Sunday. City officials extended the eviction notice, which was originally for Friday.

The homeless came back to the 800 block of East Washington Avenue two weeks ago when the Dane County park where they had been staying closed to campers for the winter. The East Washington site is the location of the old Occupy Madison encampment.

Soglin said he estimates that 10-15 percent of the homeless have severe problems with substance abuse and mental health.

"The solution is involuntary commitment, but involuntary commitment costs the county $1,000 a day," Soglin said.

But advocates for the homeless said very few of those camped on East Washington Avenue are dealing with substance and mental health problems.

Rather than involuntary commitment, advocates such as Brenda Konkel said the city must focus on establishing more affordable housing.

"One of the major solutions has got to be more single-room occupancy housing. Cheap, affordable housing that people can actually live in where you could have a job making $7.25 an hour, $7.75 an hour, and still afford to live somewhere and still have a bus pass," Konkel said.

Advocates for the homeless point to the city's 3 percent vacancy rate as a reason renters may not take a risk on people camped out on East Washington Avenue who say they don't have anywhere else to go.

"Nobody will rent to us. There's no help in this city anywhere. I've looked everywhere. I've been online, the telephone, I've done everything I could do or think of to find me a place to live. And the money's not the problem. I can't find a place to live," said Franjo Majstoric, who said he's been homeless for about a month.

A county-funded temporary day shelter is slowly moving toward approval by the Dane County Board of Supervisors but won't open until at least Dec. 1. The plan hit a snag last month when residents voiced opposition to a shelter in a county-owned building on Madison's east side, right in the middle of their neighborhood.

Monday, 23 board supervisors signed on to create a shelter in the former Lussier Teen Center, 827 E. Washington Avenue, across the street from the former Occupy encampment.

"We don't want people to freeze to death in the winter in Madison," said John Hendrick, the supervisor who represents the area where the shelter would go. "That's why we need a warming shelter."

The proposal faces a vote Nov. 15 by the full board.

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