Homeless Need Responsibility

The city of Madison has done the right thing to shut down a homeless tent encampment and to provide a humane alternative. But it can’t just be a giveaway.

For too long, city leaders tolerated an unsightly and unsanitary mess of a tent encampment at Reindahl Park. Finally, they acted to shut down the encampment and to replace it with a semi-permanent cluster of 30 heated tiny-house type structures in a business/industrial park on the southeast side. That compound is set to open in the next week or so, just in time for winter.

That’s good. What’s not so good is the silence about any kind of expectations of the occupants. There’s no mention that they will be required to look for a job in this full employment economy. No mention that they will be required to accept mental health or other services on offer. And certainly no mention that they might be expected to pay something for the shelter that the city is providing, a project that will cost about $900,000 to build and $75,000 a month to run. (Even a nominal $5 a night would send the right message.)

This isn’t good for the homeless people themselves. (And, yes, “homeless people” is a perfectly accurate and fine way to describe them. They could also be described by the politically correct “people experiencing homelessness”, but that’s an awkward phrase and I’m not going to use it.)

By not creating expectations for homeless people we’re treating them as wards of the state. We’re not paying them the dignity of being treated as adults and full citizens in our society, with both rights and responsibilities.

People develop pride, self-esteem, a sense of self-worth when they earn things. Just the opposite happens when too much is given to them no strings attached.

So, credit the Mayor, the City Council and city staff for responding to the problem with a humane answer. But it won’t be completely humane until the homeless are given the opportunity — and the nudge, if necessary — to make their own way in the world.

The city’s new tiny house compound on the southeast side is half of a good idea.

And on another matter… Yesterday I wrote about how inflation has taken off as THE political issue of the moment and that the implication for Democrats is that they needed to scale back their big social/climate spending package. The liberal Democratic line developing now is that; 1) Inflation really isn’t such a big deal and; 2) Republicans voted for more stimulus spending in two bills during the Trump administration than the $1.9 trillion in the Democrats’ package passed early this year.

One. Paul Krugman can opine from his Ivy League perch all he wants, but all voters see is the price of groceries and gas sky-rocketing. You can’t macro-economics the problem away.

Two. The problem with the “Republicans did it too” argument is that the bipartisan $3.1 trillion that passed Congress in 2020 was during the heart of the crisis. It was a good thing and it kept us out of a depression. By the time the Democrats were passing their $1.9 trillion package, a vaccine had been developed, the economy was coming back fast and there were plenty of warnings that this was unnecessary and that it would spark inflation.

Welcome to the 269th day of consecutive posts here at YSDA. Thanks for reading!


Published by dave cieslewicz

Madison/Upper Peninsula based writer. Mayor of Madison, WI from 2003 to 2011.

6 thoughts on “Homeless Need Responsibility

  1. Dave, you raise some great points. By math, please correct me if I am wrong, each house is essential $2500 a month. If they are not getting any social assistance to make help them get on them on their feet. Why not just put them in apartments all over the City? Rent even for a 3/2 is alot less than 2500/mo? That does not incl the initial $900,000 for the units.

    From my point of view this just rewarding and encouraging behavior. Yes it sounds harsh, but people need to contribute something to improve their lot in life. Especially with stores, restaurant, warehouses, and all other businesses needing workers.


  2. Employment is a two way street, just because there are places hiring doesn’t mean we can force them to hire these particular workers. Do you want them working for/with you? I’m not being judge-y, just saying facts. I actually believe I could indeed manage a productive workforce pool of the currently unhoused, but I’d need a pretty good budget and time and I’d have to get the public behind building some pyramids that put Egypt to shame.

    There are solutions to these problems if indeed we want to solve them, but under current ideology there’s not a real solution – there will always be homelessness and unemployment under our current laws.

    But practically speaking, that sure does sound like a waste of money. Doesn’t address root causes.


    1. Granted. It just seems to me that with employers so desperate for help, many would be willing to take a chance. And with the proper support from services provided by the city it could work for at least some of that population. We can’t just house these folks in 64 foot buildings forever. There has to be a program to get them to be self-supporting.


  3. Exactly, the actual solution is Socialism to some degree or another. Not making a judgement call on that, just stating a fact. It can be both undesirable and the most practical solution at the same time. Or we can default to a less efficient and less practical free market solution and accept the inevitable outcome of not achieving 100% solution.

    Ideology and practicality don’t make easy bedfellows.


  4. I often hear the idea that government should be run more like a business. After all, business has measurable outcomes that must be achieved. I actually agree. The big problem is agreeing on what those outcomes should be. Solving homelessness is clearly not an outcome the majority of Americans is supportive of.


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