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Sunday, March 1, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 15.0° F  Overcast with Haze
The Paper
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Homeless welcome in Capitol, just not now

In downtown Madison, homeless people who want to hang out indoors during the day have two options: the Madison Central Library and the basement cafeteria of the state Capitol.

The cafeteria is an especially popular spot because it opens at 8 a.m., right after the emergency shelters close. Or it used to. The cafeteria is now opening at 10 each morning. That set off alarm bells among homeless advocates, suspicious that the move was meant to keep the homeless out.

David Helbach, administrator of the Division of State Facilities and secretary of the state Building Commission, insists that's not the case.

He says that state cutbacks have forced him to rely on temp workers to clean the facilities, and that they need to clean it each morning. He adds that, prior to 10 a.m., the homeless are welcome in any of the building's other public areas.

"They've got the whole Rotunda if they want," he says. "I could put them in the North Hearing Room if they want to go there."

Helbach says the homeless do sometimes create messes, but so do "fourth-graders" who frequently come through the Capitol for tours.

"We've had problems with drinking," he says. "We've found needles down there, which is why we want to clean it before the fourth-graders show up."

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