[Hpn] Homeless coexist with government leaders in Capitol

William C. Tinker wtinker@verizon.net
Sun, 27 Jan 2008 01:08:33 -0500


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http://www.postcrescent.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=3D/20080126/APC0101=
/80126047

Posted January 26, 2008

Homeless coexist with government leaders in Capitol=20

Those who 'run out of ends to meet' use Madison building for survival=20

By Ben Jones=20
Post-Crescent Madison bureau chief=20


MADISON - A fine snow fell as Ricky "Joko" Novak rolled a cigarette =
while perched atop a steel heating grate. The grate hissed, enveloping =
the homeless man in a fragile pocket of warmth in the midst of =
zero-degree wind chills.=20


Ducking inside his jacket, Novak lit the cigarette. In front of him =
loomed the granite dome of the state Capitol, looking colder and grayer =
than the sky.

Later, Gov. Jim Doyle would deliver his annual State of the State =
address under the dome.=20

Later still, someone would spend a night atop this heating grate.

Wisconsin's state Capitol is as grand as a castle, a building whose =
corridors swarm not only with state legislators and Supreme Court =
justices, but also with hundreds of aides and attorneys, liaisons and =
lobbyists.=20

But on bitter-cold days like those that gripped the state last week, the =
Capitol also is a refuge for the homeless, a place where there co-exist =
two vastly different worlds: one inhabited by men and women with =
somewhere to be, something to do and somebody counting on them; the =
other by people with no consideration more pressing than survival.

In a Capitol basement cafeteria last week, dozens of homeless people =
stayed warm while sleeping, reading and playing cards.

At night, with temperatures falling below zero, heating grates on the =
Capitol's northeast side kept a small number of people from freezing to =
death.=20

"The heat is constant and nobody really bothers you here," David Watson =
said.

Here, the world of the homeless sometimes intersects with that of the =
suits - sometimes humorously, sometimes ominously.=20

State Rep. Steve Wieckert, R-Appleton, who likes to research legislation =
in the morning, arrives at his first-floor office as early as 6:30 a.m.

At 8 a.m., the building opens to the public and the Capitol washrooms =
fill with homeless men cleaning up for the day.

"Pretty much down to their skivvies," Wieckert said.

Wieckert sees a lot of the same faces. Sometimes the men strike up =
friendly conversations. Wieckert said he has been asked "all sorts of =
things," including one geometry question.

"What's a hypotenuse?" the homeless man asked the legislator.

"It's tough," Wieckert said. "It would be nice if there was a place for =
them, a place where they could put their belongings."

About a year ago, a homeless man arrived at the office of state Rep. =
Dean Kaufert, R-Neenah.=20

"He started making threats to my staff and to me," Kaufert said. "Police =
said his blood alcohol (content) was pretty high."

No one was hurt and Kaufert said he didn't think the man was arrested.

"For many of these guys, alcohol may be a problem, but they've never =
bothered me other than that one instance," Kaufert said.

Last week, with temperatures among the coldest of the winter, as many as =
three dozen homeless people at a time, mostly men, spent days on chairs =
and benches in the Capitol basement, their belongings in plastic grocery =
bags and small backpacks. Many were residents of a nearby drop-in =
shelter, which requires people to check out during daytime hours.=20

Residents can spend days in a daytime center that's serviced by a =
shuttle van, but many residents opt instead walk to the Capitol, which =
is closer.

Watson said he doesn't feel safe at the drop-in shelter. He said other =
homeless people at the shelter have robbed and threatened him. So he =
sleeps outside the Capitol.

Four days earlier, Watson got into trouble. It was late, and =
temperatures were falling toward 12 below zero.

"I was so cold I didn't realize I was cold," Watson said. "I ran into a =
friend of mine and he said, 'look, you have to go to the hospital.'"

The friend flagged down a city bus driver who went off route to deliver =
Watson to the emergency room, no fare required. Doctors treated Watson =
for hypothermia and the hospital released him three days later.

Watson once lived in the warmth of New Orleans and says he would like to =
return there someday.=20

But right now it's not quite noon and Watson's on a bench in the Capitol =
basement.

"I didn't expect to live this long," said Watson, 42. "I don't know if =
I'll make it to spring or not."

Novak said there are a lot of reasons why the people in the Capitol are =
homeless.

"There are a lot who drink or take drugs," he said. "Some are waiting =
for disability, SSI. Some are waiting for housing.

"For the most part, most of us can't hold a job, don't want to work, or =
just don't feel like it.=20

"I was doing a whole lot of different things (until) I ran out of ends =
to meet. That's how I ended up here."

Because of Doyle's State of the State address, the Capitol was a busy =
place Wednesday night. Both houses of the Legislature convened for the =
speech and several special guests were on hand, including professional =
golfer Steve Stricker.
Television trucks lined up outside.

Outside the Capitol, Herbert Colwell, 37, didn't know what was causing =
the commotion.

Colwell said he used to drive trucks but can't anymore because of =
diabetes.

Another health issue causes Colwell bathroom problems that make living =
in a shelter difficult.

He prepared to spend the night on the Capitol grounds.

"I think (the state) could use some better reform for people who have =
lost their job career, retraining and stuff like that," Colwell said. =
"(And) better housing assistance for people who are homeless."

Of the Capitol, Colwell said: "I hope they don't close it. That's my =
worst nightmare."

In his annual address, Doyle didn't mention the homeless. But he talked =
about steps the state is taking to try to grow the economy and prepare =
for a national economic downturn. He called for a hike in the state's =
minimum wage.

Doyle said the U.S. economy is "in deep turmoil."

"Make no mistake, challenging times are ahead," he said.

At 10 p.m., the speech was long over. On the Capitol's southwest side, a =
handful of television reporters did short live shots under bright =
portable lights.=20

By now, the temperature in Madison had dropped to zero with wind chills =
of 13 below, weather cold enough to warrant a mention in a National =
Weather Service Hazardous Weather Outlook.

One by one, the portable lights blinked off and the reporters left the =
grounds. The Capitol doors locked and the last lawmakers went home.

Floodlights still lit the Capitol's outer granite walls against the =
black sky.

The dome appeared brighter now, but it still looked cold.

On the snow-covered northeast lawn, Colwell lay on a heating grate, =
wrapped in a torn sleeping bag. His face was not far from the metal =
grate, which still hissed with warm air, in defiance of the falling =
temperatures.

Awake, Colwell lay on his side. He faced the Capitol's heavy wooden =
doors, which would be unlocked in a little less than 10 hours.=20

Ben Jones: 608-255-9256 or bjones@postcrescent.com


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href=3D"http://www.postcrescent.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=3D/20080126=
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<DIV><FONT face=3DArial><SPAN style=3D"FONT-SIZE: 75%">Posted January =
26,=20
2008<BR><BR></SPAN><FONT size=3D+2><B>Homeless coexist with government =
leaders in=20
Capitol</B> </FONT></FONT></DIV>
<P></P>
<P><FONT face=3D"Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif" size=3D+1>Those who 'run =
out of ends=20
to meet' use Madison building for survival </FONT>
<P><FONT face=3D"Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif" size=3D3><B><FONT =
size=3D2>By <A=20
href=3D"mailto:bjones@postcrescent.com">Ben Jones</A> =
</FONT></B><I><BR><FONT=20
size=3D2>Post-Crescent Madison bureau chief </FONT></I>
<P><FONT face=3D"Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif" size=3D2>
<P>MADISON =97 A fine snow fell as Ricky =93Joko=94 Novak rolled a =
cigarette while=20
perched atop a steel heating grate. The grate hissed, enveloping the =
homeless=20
man in a fragile pocket of warmth in the midst of zero-degree wind =
chills.=20
<P><A name=3Dcorrection></A>
<P>Ducking inside his jacket, Novak lit the cigarette. In front of him =
loomed=20
the granite dome of the state Capitol, looking colder and grayer than =
the=20
sky.<BR><BR>Later, Gov. Jim Doyle would deliver his annual State of the =
State=20
address under the dome. <BR><BR>Later still, someone would spend a night =
atop=20
this heating grate.<BR><BR>Wisconsin=92s state Capitol is as grand as a =
castle, a=20
building whose corridors swarm not only with state legislators and =
Supreme Court=20
justices, but also with hundreds of aides and attorneys, liaisons and =
lobbyists.=20
<BR><BR>But on bitter-cold days like those that gripped the state last =
week, the=20
Capitol also is a refuge for the homeless, a place where there co-exist =
two=20
vastly different worlds: one inhabited by men and women with somewhere =
to be,=20
something to do and somebody counting on them; the other by people with =
no=20
consideration more pressing than survival.<BR><BR>In a Capitol basement=20
cafeteria last week, dozens of homeless people stayed warm while =
sleeping,=20
reading and playing cards.<BR><BR>At night, with temperatures falling =
below=20
zero, heating grates on the Capitol=92s northeast side kept a small =
number of=20
people from freezing to death. <BR><BR>=93The heat is constant and =
nobody really=20
bothers you here,=94 David Watson said.<BR><BR>Here, the world of the =
homeless=20
sometimes intersects with that of the suits =97 sometimes humorously, =
sometimes=20
ominously. <BR><BR>State Rep. Steve Wieckert, R-Appleton, who likes to =
research=20
legislation in the morning, arrives at his first-floor office as early =
as 6:30=20
a.m.<BR><BR>At 8 a.m., the building opens to the public and the Capitol=20
washrooms fill with homeless men cleaning up for the =
day.<BR><BR>=93Pretty much=20
down to their skivvies,=94 Wieckert said.<BR><BR>Wieckert sees a lot of =
the same=20
faces. Sometimes the men strike up friendly conversations. Wieckert said =
he has=20
been asked =93all sorts of things,=94 including one geometry=20
question.<BR><BR>=93What=92s a hypotenuse?=94 the homeless man asked the =

legislator.<BR><BR>=93It=92s tough,=94 Wieckert said. =93It would be =
nice if there was a=20
place for them, a place where they could put their =
belongings.=94<BR><BR>About a=20
year ago, a homeless man arrived at the office of state Rep. Dean =
Kaufert,=20
R-Neenah. <BR><BR>=93He started making threats to my staff and to me,=94 =
Kaufert=20
said. =93Police said his blood alcohol (content) was pretty =
high.=94<BR><BR>No one=20
was hurt and Kaufert said he didn=92t think the man was =
arrested.<BR><BR>=93For many=20
of these guys, alcohol may be a problem, but they=92ve never bothered me =
other=20
than that one instance,=94 Kaufert said.<BR><BR>Last week, with =
temperatures among=20
the coldest of the winter, as many as three dozen homeless people at a =
time,=20
mostly men, spent days on chairs and benches in the Capitol basement, =
their=20
belongings in plastic grocery bags and small backpacks. Many were =
residents of a=20
nearby drop-in shelter, which requires people to check out during =
daytime hours.=20
<BR><BR>Residents can spend days in a daytime center that=92s serviced =
by a=20
shuttle van, but many residents opt instead walk to the Capitol, which =
is=20
closer.<BR><BR>Watson said he doesn=92t feel safe at the drop-in =
shelter. He said=20
other homeless people at the shelter have robbed and threatened him. So =
he=20
sleeps outside the Capitol.<BR><BR>Four days earlier, Watson got into =
trouble.=20
It was late, and temperatures were falling toward 12 below =
zero.<BR><BR>=93I was=20
so cold I didn=92t realize I was cold,=94 Watson said. =93I ran into a =
friend of mine=20
and he said, =91look, you have to go to the hospital.=92=94<BR><BR>The =
friend flagged=20
down a city bus driver who went off route to deliver Watson to the =
emergency=20
room, no fare required. Doctors treated Watson for hypothermia and the =
hospital=20
released him three days later.<BR><BR>Watson once lived in the warmth of =
New=20
Orleans and says he would like to return there someday. <BR><BR>But =
right now=20
it=92s not quite noon and Watson=92s on a bench in the Capitol =
basement.<BR><BR>=93I=20
didn=92t expect to live this long,=94 said Watson, 42. =93I don=92t know =
if I=92ll make it=20
to spring or not.=94<BR><BR>Novak said there are a lot of reasons why =
the people=20
in the Capitol are homeless.<BR><BR>=93There are a lot who drink or take =
drugs,=94=20
he said. =93Some are waiting for disability, SSI. Some are waiting for=20
housing.<BR><BR>=93For the most part, most of us can=92t hold a job, =
don=92t want to=20
work, or just don=92t feel like it. <BR><BR>=93I was doing a whole lot =
of different=20
things (until) I ran out of ends to meet. That=92s how I ended up=20
here.=94<BR><BR>Because of Doyle=92s State of the State address, the =
Capitol was a=20
busy place Wednesday night. Both houses of the Legislature convened for =
the=20
speech and several special guests were on hand, including professional =
golfer=20
Steve Stricker.<BR>Television trucks lined up outside.<BR><BR>Outside =
the=20
Capitol, Herbert Colwell, 37, didn=92t know what was causing the=20
commotion.<BR><BR>Colwell said he used to drive trucks but can=92t =
anymore because=20
of diabetes.<BR><BR>Another health issue causes Colwell bathroom =
problems that=20
make living in a shelter difficult.<BR><BR>He prepared to spend the =
night on the=20
Capitol grounds.<BR><BR>=93I think (the state) could use some better =
reform for=20
people who have lost their job career, retraining and stuff like =
that,=94 Colwell=20
said. =93(And) better housing assistance for people who are =
homeless.=94<BR><BR>Of=20
the Capitol, Colwell said: =93I hope they don=92t close it. That=92s my =
worst=20
nightmare.=94<BR><BR>In his annual address, Doyle didn=92t mention the =
homeless. But=20
he talked about steps the state is taking to try to grow the economy and =
prepare=20
for a national economic downturn. He called for a hike in the state=92s =
minimum=20
wage.<BR><BR>Doyle said the U.S. economy is =93in deep =
turmoil.=94<BR><BR>=93Make no=20
mistake, challenging times are ahead,=94 he said.<BR><BR>At 10 p.m., the =
speech=20
was long over. On the Capitol=92s southwest side, a handful of =
television=20
reporters did short live shots under bright portable lights. <BR><BR>By =
now, the=20
temperature in Madison had dropped to zero with wind chills of 13 below, =
weather=20
cold enough to warrant a mention in a National Weather Service Hazardous =
Weather=20
Outlook.<BR><BR>One by one, the portable lights blinked off and the =
reporters=20
left the grounds. The Capitol doors locked and the last lawmakers went=20
home.<BR><BR>Floodlights still lit the Capitol=92s outer granite walls =
against the=20
black sky.<BR><BR>The dome appeared brighter now, but it still looked=20
cold.<BR><BR>On the snow-covered northeast lawn, Colwell lay on a =
heating grate,=20
wrapped in a torn sleeping bag. His face was not far from the metal =
grate, which=20
still hissed with warm air, in defiance of the falling=20
temperatures.<BR><BR>Awake, Colwell lay on his side. He faced the =
Capitol=92s=20
heavy wooden doors, which would be unlocked in a little less than 10 =
hours.=20
<P><A name=3Dcorrection></A></FONT><FONT face=3D"Arial, Helvetica, =
sans-serif"=20
size=3D2><I>Ben Jones: 608-255-9256 or <A=20
href=3D"mailto:bjones@postcrescent.com">bjones@postcrescent.com</A></I></=
FONT></P></FONT>
<DIV><FONT face=3DArial size=3D2></FONT>&nbsp;</DIV></BODY></HTML>

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