'Unhelpful situation:' Alderman defends decision to evict homeless 'trespassing on state property'

MILWAUKEE -- The Wisconsin Department of Transportation gave notices to those staying at a Milwaukee homeless encampment known as “Tent City” to remove themselves and their property by the end of October. The notices were delivered on Friday, Oct. 4 at the encampment under the Marquette Interchange in Milwaukee.

The notice read as follows:

“You are hearby given notice to move off the Wisconsin Department of Transportation right of way per Wisconsin State Statute 86.025 which states that camping on highways is unlawful. As of the date you received and or this notice was posted you have until October 31, 2019 to gather and remove your property.”

The area near 6th Street and Clybourn Street is home to several dozen people. As FOX6 News learned in August, the Milwaukee Rescue Mission was among those trying to find the right balance in helping those living in the tents -- working with other organizations to help pass out hygiene products to those in need. Officials said there's room for people in need at their shelter near 17th and Kilbourn.

Alderman Bob Bauman said Saturday employees from the Milwaukee County District Attorney's Office distributed the notices on Friday morning.

"We are eliminating a, what is clearly an unhelpful situation that is not good for the City of Milwaukee and is not good for the people who are living there," said Alderman Bauman. "They were trespassing, in essence, on state property, and there was a specific state statute that prohibited camping on highway rights of way."

Alderman Bob Bauman

Bauman said the notices were handed out to 90 people living on the state-owned property, from the lakefront to 13th Street.

"I think it's a combination of the onset of winter, which will create a built-in incentive for people to move, and the county putting together the necessary housing resources to find places for everybody," said Bauman.

"I don't know how you evict someone from underneath a freeway underpass," said Alderman Khalif Rainey. "It's almost ridiculous within itself, thinking they would serve an eviction notice to the homeless."

Alderman Khalif Rainey

Alderman Rainey said the notices wouldn't help those living there.

"Forcing individuals to relocate, it doesn't rectify the issue," said Alderman Rainey. "It doesn't resolve it. It just moves the issue somewhere else."

Those living in "Tent City" were ordered out by Oct. 31, when the Wisconsin State Patrol could take action.

"The police don't have the authority to come onto DOT property and start removing people unless they are asked to, and they have not been asked to during the entire summer -- period," said Bauman.

Jim Mathy, housing administrator for the Milwaukee County Housing Division said there is an outreach team at the encampment five days a week -- with a plan to move everyone to a temporary location for intake/screening to determine their needs. He added the same process happened in 2018 for people living in two areas -- at 6th and Clybourn and in MacArthur Square, with 89 people relocated. The difference is, this time, notices were handed out -- with the DOT working with the county, issuing notices due to safety concerns. He said the mission is to get everyone inside before it gets too cold.

Milwaukee County homeless prevention initiative funding in 2020 budget proposal

Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele and the Milwaukee County Department of Health & Human Services Housing Division on Thursday, Oct. 3 announced an additional $250,000 investment to expand homeless prevention services as part of the recommended 2020 budget -- an effort to prevent eviction and homelessness for an additional 150 families per year.

According to a news release, the money would "help provide additional services before someone becomes homeless," through the county's Housing First initiative launched in 2015 to help residents access the permanent housing they need so they can address other challenges in a more stable environment. In the first several years, Housing First placed more than 700 chronically homeless individuals in permanent housing and reduced the overall rate of homelessness in Milwaukee County by more than 45%, according to the release.

The release said with this investment, the Housing Division would expand connections to service with IMPACT 211 to provide flexible funding and housing navigation for individuals and families that previously would have entered shelters or approached homeless outreach workers on the street to receive housing supports and services.

Through the homeless prevention pilot in 2019, more than 540 individuals were served, and 83% of participants were able to avoid becoming homeless, according to the release.

The "Eviction Prevention" pilot saw similar success, preventing 49 evictions in 2019 by providing one-time financial assistance to individuals facing eviction and impending homelessness.

Donations are needed for startup kits to assist individuals with moving into apartments. CLICK HERE to learn more, or to make a donation.

Abele submitted the 2020 recommended budget proposal to the County Board of Supervisors on Oct. 1.