$25K plan to help city's homeless leave town draws fire

2012-10-19T10:00:00Z 2012-11-16T07:37:01Z $25K plan to help city's homeless leave town draws fireSANDY CULLEN | Wisconsin State Journal | scullen@madison.com | 608-252-6137 madison.com

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.

Copyright 2015 madison.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(13) Comments

  1. jasperJ
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    jasperJ - October 23, 2012 7:49 pm
    Bye bye now! I'm tired of (literally) stepping over people in the morning, having obscene things muttered at me and working in a building that smells like urine more often than not (they urinate in the stairwell). I don't care whether they go to Miami or Club Med. I just hope they don't migrate back in the spring. Nice work Mayor Soglin!
  2. JoeBiteme
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    JoeBiteme - October 19, 2012 8:15 pm
    This is a brilliant. A one way ticket out of here.
  3. thedude25
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    thedude25 - October 19, 2012 2:27 pm
    I think it has to be a one time thing, or some people will come back here knowing they can get another free ticket. As far as verification goes, not our problem. Sounds cold but if a homeless person says they have people in Omaha, we believe him/her ONCE and send them on their way. It's up to them to know whether or not where they're going will have people who will assist them.

    I think it's important to focus on the fact this is voluntary, truly meant to help and not hate the homeless and acknowledges Madison can support a limited number of people who need help.
  4. eclectic
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    eclectic - October 19, 2012 10:54 am
    A one way ticket out of town is far cheaper and more humane than monthly rent subsidies and food vouchers.
  5. loveyatch
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    loveyatch - October 19, 2012 9:26 am
    Not gonna lie, my first "knee-jerk reaction" was disdain. I thought it would be something like what the paper described as a vacation to Miami for the winter. The way the program is explained, though, where the loved ones are contacted before the person gets a bus ticket seems to be a decent idea. If someone could figure out a way to make this program work and help people get to friends and family that will help them gather their lives back together, the program would be great for the people and the city. The biggest problem I see with the program is people taking advantage of the program. I would want to know more about it: What are the restrictions? Is this something people can use multiple times? How do we verify people are actually going to help these people who use the program? What is the estimate annual cost of this program? What is the success rate in other cities?
  6. Bunt
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    Bunt - October 19, 2012 9:17 am
    I'm a liberal as well and I am fine with giving the homeless help to leave Madison. I've never enjoyed the homeless or thought Madison was extra awesome because of the inspiration the homeless have to move here. If Soglin wants me to cough up a few bucks to help the homeless leave, then have at it.
  7. DowntownTruth
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    DowntownTruth - October 19, 2012 9:15 am
    Hey Lisa Subek - SHUT. UP. Quit being a poverty pimp. As I commonly ask those whose hearts bleed for the homeless (certainly NEVER for political reasons): how many have you asked to live in your home? Shhhhh. Save the 'outrage'. Kudos to Mayor Soglin.
  8. MultiVortex
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    MultiVortex - October 19, 2012 9:09 am
    I agree with many of the posters here and I'm a liberal. If Madison isn't willing to make tough decisions like this one, good intentions left unchecked will do more damage than good. We need to look at the big picture. Federal programs should be increased to help poverty be reduced and make it an equal playing field across midwestern cities. If Madison provides more incentives than neighboring cities, we are left with an influx that is too difficult to handle. I like the idea of helping, but it has to be done in a way that lifts all of us, not in a well-intentioned, but self-defeating way that punishes Madison's tax base and does little to solve the underlying problems. We have a crisis with increasing crime and potential flight of our tax base, in my opinion, and I'm glad we're starting to talk about it.
  9. 53703
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    53703 - October 19, 2012 8:22 am
    I am also quite liberal and have no problem with this proposal. Some people, whether liberal or conservative, are married to their hot buttons.

    What is quite strange, though, is that Soglin seems willing to destroy the Overture in order to channel money to the poor, but he doesn't seem to classify the homeless with the poor. I guess to be poor by his definition, you must have enough money to pay rent?

    I personally think that issues of poverty have to be handled largely at the national level. Otherwise, any community that does its part to help can be treated to an influx of poverty and crime that comes with it. Then, the people who can afford to leave will leave, and all you are left with is the poverty.

    I honestly don't mind paying some taxes to help people in need, but I do not want to live someplace with high crime or where the arts are destroyed. I am sure that sounds a bit like "not in my neighborhood" but I really think is "a little bit in my neighborhood is fine, but only up to some limit." In fact, commuities where there is some mixture of rich and poor in the same neighborhoods have lower average crime, so there is some benefit to avoiding total class segregation.
  10. whynot
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    whynot - October 19, 2012 7:45 am
    I have to say that I'm really starting to be impressed by the mayor. He's finally starting to tackle some of the hot button issues that most other mayors wouldn't touch with a ten foot pole. It's nice to see him trying to improve the homeless problem and the problem with increasing crime that the flood of poor people from other communities is bringing with them. Decisions like these make me think that Madison may actually have a chance of coming back from the brink that we're teetering on right now. All it took was the worst economy since the Great Depression for people to wake up and realize that people who pay their bills and contribute to the tax base and growth of your city may need just a bit more attention than they've been getting in the past instead of focusing all your efforts on people who simply drain your reserves. Well done mayor.
  11. Big_Joe
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    Big_Joe - October 19, 2012 7:11 am
    Interesting proposition. Even more interesting is watching a formerly ultra liberal citizen/mayor try to come to grips with problems that are the result of chickens coming home to roost after decades of fuzzy headed, well intentioned social programs. Not opposed to helping the less fortunate, but this has come down to a classic cost/benefit tradeoff. Unlike the feds, Madison can't print its own money, so look for many more choices like this to come.
  12. thedude25
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    thedude25 - October 19, 2012 6:43 am
    Soglin's idea is good. But since it can be interpreted as being "anti-homeless," the knee-jerks freak out. Madison's liberalism has devolved into "It's nice to be nice to the nice." Whatever makes us feel nice, helps us keep our self-image of good, compassionate people in our pretty little heads gets supported without thought. How tiresome. And I'm generally proud to call myself a liberal but there are times....grrrr.
  13. ET
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    ET - October 19, 2012 6:10 am
    This is the only thing I have seen Soglin do that is pro-taxpayer and this peabrain, Lisa, is against it. Figures. If the people want to attract and keep homeless in Madison, they should donate their own personal funds and open up their own houses to them. Why would homeless want to stay in a place that gets this cold in the winter? Florida, Texas, Arizona. Go where the warmth is.

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