Homeless and friends rally at Reynolds Park

The baseball backstop at Reynolds Park was plastered with more than 50 hand-lettered signs that were written by community residents and homeless people.

Some of the signs read: "Housing is a Human Right," "Dane County Needs a Year-Round Homeless Center," "Homelessness is Not a Choice or A Lifestyle," and "We Need Shelter Before Winter."    

More than 75 homeless people, advocates, and community residents gathered for an afternoon rally at Madison's Reynolds Park on Saturday, Oct. 27 to address concerns about a lack of facilities and services for homeless people. 

Ann Lyttle, a Madison resident who attended the event, said the community at large should come together over this issue.

"The only way we can fix this problem is if everyone, including homeless people, comes together," Lyttle said. She has a house, but some of her friends are homeless.

Allen Barkoff of Occupy Madison joined Lyttle in addressing the crowd.        

Barkoff spoke of an experience he had the night before taking a homeless person, who had once worked in advertising, to a few shelters only to find out that the shelters were filled to capacity. Barkoff said he put the man up in a hotel for the night.

Barkoff said Madison needs more overnight facilities, a new day center and warming center. He said concerned people should contact the mayor, their alderperson, and county supervisor.           

"Bus tickets out of town will not do," Barkoff said. Homeless people are sometimes given bus fare to Milwaukee or other locations where there may be shelter availability.

State Rep. Chris Taylor (D-Madison) is introducing legislation in 2013 that would provide funding for a new Madison shelter, as well as extend the length of stay in shelters from 15 days to 30 days to give homeless people more time to get help and transition to permanent housing.           

At the event, Friends of the State Street Family provided a free hot buffet. Beverages, chips, fresh fruit, and desserts were also served. Tami Miller of Belleville, Wis. serves as the coordinator of this popular free food program. She receives food donations at her home from many people. She said her grandmother, who is 89, often makes brownies for the program.           

"We treat people like our own family," Miller said.          

Mark D. Clark of Alliance for Recovery Advocates (AFRA) said teenagers are living in the woods around Madison, hiding from parents who are addicts.          

"Being homeless is not OK," Clark said. He wants to open a recovery center for the homeless in Madison.           

The recent cold snap has brought into sharp relief the need for shelter for the homeless.          

"We may have the best city, whatever, but we have trouble keeping people warm," said William Gruber, who has been homeless for a year and a half.           

Tina Sobek, who has been homeless for a year, also spoke at the rally.           

"Everybody here deserves better," she said.          

Another homeless man, who asked not to be identified, said he had a list of grievances "500 miles long." He said that he came to the rally because, "no one should forget me. I feel used and abused by the establishment."

In addition to the buffet, there was free clothing and boxes of toothbrushes, grooming items and flashlights available at the rally.