Jeramey Jannene
Eyes on Milwaukee

Will Tent City Come Back?

Could be an embarrassment during the DNC. Downtown Ald. Bauman seeks answers from the state.

By - Dec 4th, 2019 03:22 pm
Tent City. Photo by Tom Bamberger.

Tent City. Photo by Tom Bamberger.

The Common Council’s Public Works Committee was briefed Wednesday morning on a green infrastructure project that will replace the “Tent City” homeless encampment under Interstate 794 near the Marquette Interchange.

But the presentation from Department of Public Works (DPW)  and Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District (MMSD) representatives didn’t answer a critical question from the committee’s chair.

“What efforts are being taken to prevent the Tent City from reappearing next April?” asked area alderman and committee chair Robert Bauman. “In case someone didn’t know, we have an event coming up next July.” Bauman was referring to the Democratic National Convention.

The encampment was largely cleared by the end of October in anticipation of the construction of a green infrastructure project. Bauman seems to suspect the project was seen as a way to prevent another tent city from popping up, but also wasn’t convinced this would work. “The spokespeople for the state came up with this green infrastructure project, which frankly I had never heard of before, which okay, fine,” he said.  City and state officials, however, have said planning for the project goes back two years.

The alderman said he was happy housing was found for almost all of the residents of the 2019 iteration of the encampment, but expressed concern that allowing the encampment to re-emerge would cause not only a humanitarian issue but would create a negative perception of the city on a national stage during the Democratic convention.

“It’s not obvious how this plan will prevent camping,” said Bauman. “It looks like you’re going to still have flat ground.”

The $1 million project, to be paid for from MMSD’s Green Solutions fund, would be capable of diverting approximately 150,000 gallons of rainfall from the city’s combined sewer system and Deep Tunnel during each rainstorm.

The state, through the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, owns the 16-acre site and the Milwaukee County Department of Transportation is tasked with maintaining it and the other freeway lands in the county.

DPW civil engineer Kurt Sprangers said many of Bauman’s repeated questions about securing the site would need to be answered by the state or county, but that permanently fencing the entire site was under consideration.

[ianrticlead ad=”UM-In-Article-2″]Sprangers noted that the site’s perimeter is now wrapped with a construction fence and covered with “fill” material, primarily gravel brought from other construction sites. “Construction is slated for late summer of 2020,” said Sprangers.

Bauman, who said he has received many complaints about the encampment, said there is a perception it’s a city issue, but the city’s hands are tied: “Why aren’t the police doing something about it? Because nobody has filed a complaint. The property owner has not asked someone to do something about it.”

“I would just like clarity on what the entities that have direct control are thinking,” said Bauman, while promising to ask the state for a presentation.

“We have got to have this conversation,” said Alderman Mark Borkowski. “For us to wait until something happens is just not good business.”

“You’re right, the world is going to be looking at us in July,” added Borkowski. “We can’t be in reactive mode in March, April, May.”

For additional information on the infrastructure plan, see a report by my colleague Graham Kilmer covering an open house project partners held last week.

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Related Legislation: File 191322

More about the Tent City

Read more about Tent City here

One thought on “Eyes on Milwaukee: Will Tent City Come Back?”

  1. Lee Bitts says:

    How do you fix “poverty?”

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