Empower Wisconsin | Dec. 10 2019
By M.D. Kittle
MILWAUKEE — When you’re hosting tens of thousands of visitors for the political party of the quadrennium, you want to make a good first impression.
And a tent city of homeless people isn’t the kind of image self-congratulatory liberal Milwaukee leaders like Mayor Tom Barrett want to showcase to the world when Wisconsin’s biggest city welcomes the Democratic National Convention in July.
Thankfully, the host community may not have to worry about the public-relations blemish — thanks to a plan that displaces the homeless in the name of tackling climate change.
Gov. Tony Evers’ state Department of Transportation in October ordered scores of homeless residents off the property it owns beneath the Interstate 794 overpass at North 6th and West Clybourn Streets.
The encampment ostensibly was removed to make way for a “joint DOT-City of Milwaukee green infrastructure project” under the freeway. The plan will “help Milwaukee adapt to climate change while creating a healthier and more resilient city,” states the executive summary for the plan, approved by the Common Council and Barrett last year. Its next phase could also include an “unusual urban mountain bike course” — every homeless person’s dream.
But sources with knowledge of the property and the homeless situation there over the years say things became much more urgent for Democrat-led Milwaukee in March, when the city learned it was selected to host the DNC.
“Suddenly after the DNC was coming in, the governor got in to the act, and the (DOT) all of a sudden got much more serious about clearing out the homeless there than (the DOT ever was),” the state government official said.
Recently, city officials acknowledged the possibility that the homeless camp could return next spring and create PR problems.
“We’ve got to have this conversation,” Ald. Mark Borkowski said at a recent meeting, according the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “The world’s going to be looking at us in July.”
Empower Wisconsin has filed an open records request with the DOT seeking all communications regarding the project since March 1.
City officials insist the green infrastructure project is critical to cutting the amount of polluted stormwater that floods into nearby waterways.
Brian DeNeve, of the Public Works Department, told Empower Wisconsin that discussions were initiated “earlier in the year.” He said things became more solidified in September when the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District awarded about $1 million in funding for the project.
DeNeve said any construction of the stormwater diversion project would begin after the DNC.
The urgency of the project, not to mention the aggressive timeline for removing the encampment, sure is convenient, though.
It’s clear Milwaukee officials don’t want the tent city back next spring. Ald. Robert Bauman said removing the camp then would be tough to do without causing a “big spectacle,” which would be covered by the same national media reporting on the DNC.
“(T)he perception can have a political impact,” the liberal said, according the Journal Sentinel.