November 20, 2012 by Leslie Amsterdam and Adam Chern
Occupy Madison has established an encampment at Lake View Hill County Park, in the grove of trees off on the east side of the lawn of the Dane County Human Services building.
There is no overnight camping at Lake View Hill Park. Campers do not have permission for a fire, although a permit has been requested. Occupy Madison has been given several deadlines to move their encampment out of this location, however campers would like to have a suitable alternative location determined before moving their tents and belongings again.
Many in the neighborhood have welcomed the campers, spending time with them and bringing over hot food and other necessities. A local church opens its doors to the group 8am-6pm daily. Other residents are not as welcoming and several comments in a Northside community listserv have been discouraging of the encampment. One neighborhood resident responded with the following observations:
I feel the need to respond to a few points regarding the encampment on Lake View Hill, since the media seem to be acting as echo chamber for the county and city. I do not condemn those who stand against the encampment, since I believe that is a reasonable response to the flow of information thus far. I also believe that until one has been stripped of all possessions it is difficult to fully empathize with those who have. Human nature compels us to hate that which we fear becoming, and this could happen to most of us.
The city and county have tried to make the case that services are available to these folks. Unfortunately, there are strict limitations to those services. Many who have been homeless for more than a few weeks have used up their eligibility in increasingly over-crowded facilities.
One might also imagine a homeless shelter as a sparkling, luxurious facility with cable TV and wireless. It isn’t. I believe anybody can confirm this by spending a test night at a shelter. Be forewarned, though, you will not just be exposed to bedbugs. Many of your cot-mates may be suffering all kinds of trauma and untreated mental illness. Others may be addicts living on the edge. It might be more appealing to sleep in a tent in freezing temperatures.
Nobody comes to Madison to be homeless. It is not any more hospitable a place than any othr, especially as winter descends. The folks who have come together seek heat, shelter and the safety of a group of comrades known to them. The city would prefer to have them dispersed in alleys and back lots where they attract less attention. Their previous digs were a vacant asphalt lot on E. Washington where they did not bother anyone. The city kicked them out of there last week. We want to hide these social problems from visitors. It seems we are trying to protect the image of a gleaming city on a hill.
The group chose Lake View Hill, I think, because of its proximity to food and water and the ample, unused piece of lawn. This piece of lawn is not a gem of nature. It is a mowed clearing between two groves of trees. The campers only lit fires in above-ground fireplaces. They camp together for safety, warmth and community. They really do harm to nobody.
The fact that some are more offended by WHERE these folks choose to camp than by the problems their homelessness indicates is truly disturbing. One cannot be fully unaware of mass layoffs. One cannot be totally unaware of foreclosures on both homes and apartment buildings.
Instead of scowling or moving out of the neighborhood, let’s try bringing over some soup or a casserole to have a chat and understand.
[Adam Chern has lived in the Lake View Hill neighborhood since 1997 and enjoys sledding down the Lake View County Park hill when weather and time permit him to do so in the winter. This letter was written as a response to a thread on a neighborhood listserv.]
On Sunday night, a late night raid by Dane County Parks staff resulted in several campers and supporters receiving $169.00 citations for being in the park after the 10pm curfew. Dane County Fire Department also visited the site twice to extinguish a small campfire contained in a fire pit.
Monday morning brought more citations as 2 neighborhood residents received tickets for unruly behavior as they parked their cars on Northport Drive and demanded that campers leave the park. The following video depicts a neighborhood resident’s encounter with Occupy camper Franjo Majstonic.
Eventually three police officers were summoned to issue three citations to the two neighborhood residents unhappy with the Occupy encampment at Lake View Hill Park.