He’s the homeless man.
Camping near the Monterey Bridge since March, this man has become both local celebrity and symbol of Janesville’s homeless problem. Because he’s chosen to live in such a visible location, his situation has attracted the attention of residents and the police alike.
Some people say he should be allowed to stay at the site because he’s not bothering anyone. He mostly just sits there, and some residents even give him food, clothes and money.
Others fear his presence could inspire more homeless people to join him, turning the area into a tent city.
Police tried to take control of the situation late last week by removing most of his belongings. But the man was back again Monday, sitting in a chair at Monterey Park.
His case exposes the limitations of government. Short of removing him from the area, which the police might do at some point, there’s not much government agencies can do for him. He doesn’t seem to want their help, despite being offered it.
It’s a conundrum and not one easily resolved by the city’s recently-formed homeless task force. The task force is considering several proposals, including one idea to build more housing for the homeless. Another proposal would allow the homeless to park their vehicles overnight at Palmer Park.
Neither proposal would be a magic bullet, though both would be better than doing nothing.
But what should a community do when its help is rejected by a homeless person, such as this man living near the Monterey Bridge? He reportedly has money for housing but refuses to use it. What if someone seems to prefer being homeless?
Incarcerating the man is the least attractive option and certainly not a permanent solution. Once released from jail, he’ll be in no better position to get his life in order.
“Is jail the best option for him? Probably not. That’s why we’re hoping he’ll start using some of these resources that are available locally,” Deputy Chief Terry Sheridan said Monday.
But based on earlier court findings, this man likely suffers from a mental disorder, which means reasonable suggestions and rationale arguments might have little effect.
The police are doing everything they can to monitor him, and officers visit him regularly. Despite the patience and restraint exhibited by officers, some residents have criticized the police department’s handling of the situation—some demanding police remove the man and others saying he should be left alone.
But at the end of the day, week or month, this man cannot be allowed to stay, and Sgt. Ben Thompson of the police department’s Homeless Outreach Team understands this, noting that “citizens should be able to visit a park without finding (the man) living in it. And citizens should be able to drive down the road without seeing him living in a park.”
The police are trying to balance this man’s needs against the public’s interest, but there are no good options in this circumstance—only least bad ones.