Mayor proposes security guard to disperse city hall homeless - WQOW TV: Eau Claire, WI NEWS18 News, Weather, and Sports

Mayor proposes security guard to disperse city hall homeless


MADISON (WKOW) -- Madison Mayor Paul Soglin proposes using $42,000 to assign a security guard to the city-county building to disperse homeless people from the building lobby and other places, as a way to address episodes of violence, vandalism and disruption.

"Staff who work in this building have thanked me," Soglin tells 27 News.

Common council administrative assistant Lisa Veldran says a member of the homeless community created unsanitary conditions in her building floor's bathroom. She says there have been other, unhealthy situations.

"I don't think anybody that comes to a public facility should have to worry about whether someone's going to urinate in the elevator with them," Veldran says.

But the proposal draws criticism from the other building tenant's leader, Dane County executive Joe Parisi.

"As far as hiring a private security guard and requiring people to state their business, so to speak, for being here, is kind of an extreme response," Parisi tells 27 News.

Parisi says unruly or criminal behavior in the building can be dealt with by Madison police officers, without a policy singling out members of the city's homeless population.

Parisi says his representative to the city-county liaison committee would not be supporting Soglin's proposal, when committee members meet and discuss the idea Monday.

But Soglin says the use of a private, security guard to address a loitering environment is less expensive than having officers responding to calls in the building.

Tenant Resource Center executive director and advocate for homeless services Brenda Konkel tells 27 News the area's homeless population has been growing in recent years, and daytime options for people are limited.

Konkel suggests informal, relationship building with homeless visitors to preempt problems, as opposed to a security presence.

"It becomes a whole different dynamic than if you send in a security guard with a uniform to push people around, " Konkel tells 27 News.

"Now, come on," Soglin says. "If two people are getting drunk and fighting in your lobby, I don't think that's acceptable under any standards."

Pam Neal is one of the people from the homeless community who regularly uses chairs in the building lobby during the day, storing her belongings near her. She tells 27 News she chooses to spend time in the building, because other public buildings in the Madison area, such as the state capitol, open later in the morning.

Phalen Pierson is also without a permanent home, and also often stays at city hall, mostly reading, he tells 27 News. Pierson says he is aware others have created problems with fights and other disorderly behavior, but hopes he can continue to spend time in the building's lobby.

"Here, reading, might get a half hour, forty-five minute nap. Capitol, you can't do that. The library, you can't do that."

Several people familiar with the building who spoke with 27 News say the presence of the homeless population at the building's entrance has grown over the past, several years.

"It's also a pride thing," Veldran says. "We like our public facilities to be clean and welcoming, and not have kind of a threatening atmosphere."

County and city officials have been exploring the establishment of a comprehensive, homeless day shelter in Madison. But there's been no agreement on a site, as winter's cold approaches.

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