Police, city sweep homeless encampments out of downtown
The quiet sweep signals one of the largest changes in policy towards the homeless yet
I took a walk down to the Wisconsin River Thursday evening, making my way from Kickbusch Plaza (named after Wausau’s first mayor on the site of his store) to the Scott Street Bridge.
The homeless encampments are completely gone, as if they’d never existed in the first place.
A barrier in place is blocking off the River’s Edge Trail from the plaza to the RiverLife development area north of the bridge. Deputy Chief Matt Barnes told me it was a structure to keep floodwaters out that WPS wanted to install. It basically looks like a pair of large wooden gates blocking off the trail.
What happened? On Tuesday, according to Barnes account and of activists who assist the homeless who alerted The Wausonian, members of the city’s police department, parks department and department of public works came in and left notices that they would be removing encampments from the area for safety.
That came, Barnes told The Wausonian, after WPS raised concerns about the river flooding and wanted to put up the barricade to keep the flooding from washing over Stewart Avenue.
Outreach Specialist Tracy Rieger was sent out that morning to provide warning as well, Barnes says. Rieger works with the homeless in the area as a civilian in the police department.
All the items were removed from the encampments and taken to storage at Marathon Park where they are able to retrieve them.
A change in policy
The sweep was ostensibly due to the dangers of flooding sweeping away people camped along the river. One man, Barnes says, was sleeping so close to the river on the Whitewater Kayak course that if the gates had been opened he would have been swept away.
But it also signals a policy change at the police department, Barnes told The Wausonian following additional questioning.