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Saturday, October 25, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 62.0° F  Fair
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Homeless lose downtown Madison haunts
Library and Capitol likely off limits
Happer: 'We're not bad people.'
Happer: 'We're not bad people.'

Michael, a homeless man, has a simple plan for how to cope this winter: "I'm going to leave it to Him. God will take care of me."

But he'll also have to get by with a little help from outdoor heating vents. Two places the homeless rely on to keep warm every winter during the day - the Madison Central Library and the Capitol cafeteria - will be closed.

The library is closing to undergo a major renovation. It will have a much smaller, temporary branch at Hamilton and Fairchild streets, but with very limited seating. The Capitol cafeteria in the basement has been closed to the public since the state heightened security at the building during the protests. Officials from the state Department of Administration did not return calls for comment.

Michael, who was sitting with friends at Mifflin and State streets Tuesday morning, says many homeless will do what he does: "You find a building with outside vents to keep warm. A lot of people will use bus shelters."

With winter approaching, Donna Asif, an advocate for homeless people, is sounding an alarm to the community. "Where are people supposed to go?" she wonders. "They can't go into a restaurant and sit down. Are they even going to find toilets?"

"I guess the hallways of all the government buildings are fair game," she adds. "But there aren't seats there."

Jeff Coleman, 47, a former homeless man who has many homeless friends, estimates 150 people use the library or Capitol to keep warm in the winter. Without these places, many will go the UW Memorial Union or the Capitol Rotunda floor, possibly creating tension. Those who have bus passes will go to the malls or ride the bus all day. "It's going to be really bad this year," he says. "Possibly even a few will end up freezing to death."

Steve Schooler, executive director of Porchlight Inc., says his agency might be able to increase shuttle service to its daytime shelter, Hospitality House, which is on Martin Street off Fish Hatchery Road. The shelter can accommodate about 40 people at a time. But Schooler adds that the increase in demand comes as funding is being cut.

"When it's freezing cold out, what are we going to do with these people?" he asks. "That's not just a homeless provider's problem, that's a city and county problem as well."

Another homeless man, who goes by the nickname of Happer, says, "There are people in this city who want to help, and there are people who treat us like crap.

"If I could say one thing to Madison it would be 'help,'" he adds. "We're not bad people."

GOP gamble on 'fake' candidates pays off

To Andrew Kersten, one thing is clear from Tuesday's recall elections: Wisconsinites are nervous.

Though the Democrats managed to win only two of six Senate seats held by Republicans - Jennifer Shilling defeated Dan Kapanke and Jessica King unseated Randy Hopper - failing to win back the state Senate, most of the races were competitive.

"They're very nervous about the future of the system, says Kersten, a UW-Green Bay professor of democracy and justice, who recently published The Battle for Wisconsin: Scott Walker and the Attack on the Progressive Tradition. "For the moment in those safe Republican districts, there's still a small majority that want to give Scott Walker more time."

What effect will the recalls have on government? Kersten expects Republicans to double down on efforts to push their agenda. "The clock is ticking on Scott Walker," he says. "The other option is they could move toward the center. But I don't think that's in the Republican playbook for Wisconsin."

UW-Madison political science professor Barry Burden says that Democrats clearly suffered a blow in only gaining two seats. Republicans wisely delayed the general elections by running "fake" Democrats in primaries.

"By delaying the election, that bought them some time and allowed outside groups to come in and spend money," he says. "Had this been a quick election that depended on grass roots, the Democrats would have won quite a few of the seats."

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