After a lively discussion, Janesville’s parks and recreation advisory committee recommended Tuesday that the city council consider Traxler Park as a possible location for homeless people to sleep overnight in their cars.
The committee did not make any recommendations on the hotly debated Palmer Park location, the proposal’s original site for overnight parking.
The original proposal would allow homeless people to sleep in their cars between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. in the Palmer Park lot off Palmer Drive. Current ordinances do not allow people to sleep in their cars anywhere in the city.
Recent news stories about a homeless man camping on city property have sparked more discussion of policies that affect the homeless.
However, a handful of residents voiced concerns about the overnight parking proposal Tuesday.
“I feel sorry for the people that have fallen on unfortunate times, don’t get me wrong, but I don’t believe we should stick them in any one certain location,” resident Chris Cass said.
Cass asked committee members if they had asked homeless people where they want to sleep. He said he thinks Palmer Park should be low on the list.
“If you want parks, I would say there’s a whole lot more that have more to do and can be more beneficial than what Palmer Park is going to be,” he said.
Jeanne Carfora, who has lived in Janesville for nearly 50 years, supported the parking proposal, saying she thought it was a good plan to help the homeless.
“I just see this as another opportunity to be showing the community, illustrating to others, what a community we are,” she said.
Committee member Ann Hyzer said she spent her childhood near Palmer Park and doesn’t think the location is a realistic option.
“I grew up near Palmer Park, playing there from age 2, and I’m a fierce defender of our green,” Hyzer said. “And I am in the camp of the people that are for this initiative. I do not believe it should be in Palmer Park.”
Hyzer said Traxler Park has fewer trees and bushes, which could help prevent illegal activities, and Traxler’s location away from homes made it more suitable.
Committee member Venesa Draves agreed, saying that municipal parking lots or buildings could be another option instead of parks.
“I represent parks. I love parks,” she said. “I personally don’t feel that any park in the city of Janesville is the correct place for this.”
Parks Director Cullen Slapak said city officials preferred Palmer Park over Traxler Park because the latter would be more difficult to monitor and hosts more events in summer.
A motion to recommend more investigation of both options failed before the committee settled on providing materials on Traxler Park and recommending that the council consider Traxler as a possible spot for overnight parking.
Committee Chairwoman Katie Udell said she preferred the Palmer Park option. But she said Tuesday was a productive meeting.
“The city is being proactive in providing a place where we’re not criminalizing being homeless with a car. That is why I support this motion,” she said.
“Ultimately, it’s the city council’s call, and I think what was good about tonight was that it featured many diverse viewpoints,” she said.
Some committee members made it clear they want to see concrete changes take place, but they found it difficult to agree on a single recommendation. Several motions and proposals failed because they didn’t get enough votes.
Committee member Kristen Mickelson said she has faith in the city and hopes it can move forward with a plan.
“I feel like we’re taking something, that we’re just trying to do something positive and making it this every possible bad thing that could happen,” Mickelson said.
“I think we just need to rein it in, give something a try for a change. See what happens.”
The city council will discuss the issue again July 22.