MADISON (WKOW) -- Mayor Paul Soglin unveiled a sweeping ordinance Thursday designed to keep homeless individuals from congregating near City of Madison office buildings and other areas in the Central Business District.
The Downtown Pedestrian Protection Ordinance would impose a time limit of one hour on the use of public benches and prohibits sitting, lying or lodging on public sidewalks and right-of-ways during most hours of the day. That prohibition would run from 5:30 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. for any city office properties, and from 5:30 a.m. to 1:00 a.m. for the rest of the downtown.
Madison Police would be required to give a verbal warning to anyone violating the ordinance. After that violators would be subject to a fine of $100 for a first offense and $250 for a second or subsequent offense within one year of the first.
Mayor Soglin has been looking for a way to remove the homeless population from congregating in front of the City-County Building for the last two years.
"And the refusal to adopt rules and controls on this building, as predicted, spread to the other side of the square," said Mayor Soglin.
The Mayor said more stringent enforcement is the only tool left at his disposal.
"My belief is that a significant number of them will either go into shelter, into housing, or they will go where they came from. They will leave town," said Mayor Soglin.
But advocates for the homeless said the ordinance would do little to solve the problem.
"We're not doing anything," said Brenda Konkel, who works to find housing and services for Madison's homeless. "All we're doing is further criminalizing people."
Enforcement itself will be tricky according to Madison's police chief.
"Yes, that has some challenges in and of itself," said Chief Mike Koval. "But we have enough officers that are patrolling downtown that we can monitor the situation. They're gonna be able to say for some time who's sacked out or who hasn't moved or budged."
The legality of such enforcement also raises questions. Madison City Attorney Michael May said a court challenge to the ordinance would be likely.
"I think it's been crafted as carefully as we can to not be aimed at specific individuals or their status," said May. "It's aimed at actual behavior that people engage in and that has generally been the touchstone that courts look to in terms of these sorts of things."
All of those questions assume the ordinance can pass the Madison Common Council.
Mayor Soglin said he's confident it can pass, but others say it's not likely.
"I would be pretty surprised if it passes," said Konkel. "I think the city council is looking for real solutions, not these types of solutions that aren't effective."
Mayor Soglin said he plans to introduce the ordinance for referral, but not debate, at next Tuesday's Common Council meeting.