Neighbors have mixed feelings about homeless village proposal - WKOW 27: Madison, WI Breaking News, Weather and Sports

Neighbors have mixed feelings about homeless village proposal

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MADISON (WKOW)-- The Occupy Madison group has a new idea to help out the homeless in Madison. Organizers with the group have been working with city officials to come up with cost-effective solutions to help the homeless find safe places to live and now they think they might have an idea to get things started.

The group is proposing to build a village of 11 tiny houses in the 2000 block of East Johnson Street. They also plan to use an existing building on the property, an old auto repair shop, as a workshop and gathering area where residents of those homes can shower and use bathroom facilities.They're plan is to build additional houses that can be moved to other locations in the city.

Group members have already built a few of these homes that are roughly 99 square feet in size. The group requires homeless people to work on the houses in their workshop before handing them over. On Wednesday night members held a community meeting to discuss their proposal with residents in the neighborhood surrounding the proposed site.

"We've moved really quickly to get to this point because it was really important for us to get to the neighborhood and make sure people understood what we're doing," Occupy Madison organizer Brenda Konkel says.

Nearly 200 neighbors stopped by the meeting to get information and insight into the idea of putting eleven families in tiny houses in a lot of land inside their neighborhood. City officials say zoning laws would prevent this type of project in the area.

"The property is in a zoning district that is called neighborhood mixed use. It's a commercial and mixed use zoning district," city zoning administrator Matt Tucker says.

The zoning can be changed by one of two processes. A Madison Alder can move to change the zoning restrictions and have the city council take up the idea or Occupy Madison can apply to have the plot of land re-zoned.

Officials say it's a lengthy process, but zoning is the least of the groups worries. Before they tackle that, city police need to be convinced that the site will be safe for residents who live nearby. During the meeting police announced their official stance on the proposal.

"We don't think it's a good location to be close to East High School, Emerson School and Demetral Park where we already have problems with drugs and alcohol," police captain Jay Lengfeld says.

Residents brought up several additional concerns such as environmental impacts, noise and safety issues.

"I don't see that there's any services that this is going to provide that is going to help people get a job and move on with their lives," one neighbor says during the open forum.

Some residents say they still haven't made their decision on whether or not to support the project. They're still waiting for answers to many of their questions.

"I think we should really approach this with an open mind but also with an open heart," a neighbor who lives a block away from the site explains.

A select few residents were on board with the idea saying the neighborhood could serve as an example for the rest of the city by standing up and solving a major community problem.

"If anybody thinks there is not already homeless people living in or passing through our neighborhood on a daily basis they're fooling themselves," a neighbor says to the group.

The project still has a long way to go. Organizers with Occupy Madison said the latest developments really have only happened in the last few weeks so they still have a lot of work they need to do before getting the site approved. Organizers say they looked at more than 400 other properties in the city, but decided on this one because it is centrally located, affordable and close to major bus stops.

The idea of building tiny houses for the homeless is not unique to Madison. Four other major cities in Oregon, Washington and Texas have already moved forward with the idea. Those projects are already built and are currently self-sustaining. 

For more information on the "Tiny House Project" and for an artist rendering of the proposed site, visit: http://occupymadisoninc.com/

 

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