Homeless man sleeping on bench in Madison file photo

A homeless man sleeps on a bench in Downtown Madison in this 2010 file photo.

STEVE APPS – State Journal

A proposal by Mayor Paul Soglin to provide travel money to homeless people who want to leave Madison to live in other communities near family or friends is drawing criticism from some homeless advocates.

"It's outrageous to me," said Ald. Lisa Subeck, District 1, who has worked with people who are homeless. "Instead of fighting homelessness, we're going to fight the homeless."

Subeck is one of three City County members who said they will offer amendments to nix the $25,000 Soglin included in his proposed 2013 budget for a Helping Hands Homeward initiative. She will seek to redirect the money to senior services, saying it's not just about the money, but her disagreement with what she sees as a policy statement the mayor is making about how to treat the homeless.

Council President Shiva Bidar-Sielaff and President Pro Tem Chris Schmidt also are drafting related amendments.

But Soglin said "it makes all the sense in the world" to help homeless people who want to reunite with family and friends who can provide support to help them succeed.

"It's not a vacation to Miami," Soglin said. "It's not getting a free ride when the snow piles up and the temperatures drop. It is not 'Greyhound therapy.'"

The approach has been tried in a handful of cities, including New York City, with some success, he said, adding, "Someone is more likely to do better if they have the support of loved ones."

"He's right," said Deedra Atkinson, senior vice president of the United Way of Dane County. "You and I do better when we have a support system around us and our family and our friends."

Atkinson, who was not familiar with the details of the mayor's proposal, said, "I think it's worth exploring and understanding.

"It could be very helpful for some people," she said, adding that some individuals and families go to a city where they think they will be able to get jobs or connect with people they know and end up homeless and stranded.

It has not been determined who would operate the program, Soglin said, adding that an agency such as Porchlight, which works with homeless people, could be a possibility.

Porchlight Executive Director Steven Schooler said Thursday he was not familiar with Soglin's proposal and declined to comment.

Soglin said a program staff member would make contact with family members or friends that homeless people would like to reconnect with "so that when the individual is coming home, there's someone to greet them" and provide support to help them succeed.

With winter approaching, other issues involving the area's homeless population have provoked controversy. Soglin has blasted Dane County officials for planning to open a daytime winter homeless shelter on the city's East Side without first consulting city staff, saying he has "made it clear" the city "does not have the resources or the responsibility to take care of Dane County's and Wisconsin's homeless population."

In May, the city shut down an Occupy Madison site on the Near East Side that had morphed into a homeless camp.

— State Journal reporter Dean Mosiman contributed to this report.