Dairy Drive tiny home campsite resident raises concerns

MADISON, Wis. — Last December, the Dairy Drive campground’s first residents moved into their very own tiny homes. 

Almost a year later, the encampment has housed 52 people and helped 18 of them move into permanent housing. The city sees this as a success, but some residents say it has issues that are becoming hard to ignore.

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“I think that the people that work at Dairy Drive, the staff there, are all well-intending people, but somewhere along the lines the communication has broken down,” says Dairy Drive resident Christian. 

Christian moved into a tiny home in the Dairy Drive campground in May, five months after it opened. They hoped the site could offer help getting permanent housing and mental health care, but they say that hasn’t happened.

“It’s really difficult to make progress when you never see your social workers,” says Christian. “It seems like every time you need access to one of them, they’re behind closed doors.”

They say they’re glad to have some basic needs met, but they were hoping Dairy Drive would provide more help for the future.

“We’re supposed to be looking forward, not just to our immediate needs,” says Christian. “What can we do for food and shelter today? We’d figure that out with or without Dairy Drive. I don’t mean to sound ungrateful, but we would.”

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Christian says the campsite has a list of other issues like a lack of a dedicated internet connection, a lack of a common space and security issues. 

“I can think of multiple instances where someone has been, like, peeking in my windows or stealing my things,” says Christian. “There has been a lot of violence, and nothing seems to get done. It kinda gets swept under the rug.”

They say addiction and mental health care at the site have also fallen short.

“I don’t think that people really have what they need,” says Christian. “I think we’re just kind of stocking the bathrooms with needles and hoping for the best. I think that they need to be more proactive.”

Ultimately, Christian says they’d just like the help they were promised.

“To make those promises and then not live up to them has been very disappointing,” says Christian.

Brenda Konkel is the executive director at MACH OneHealth, the third-party operator of the campsite. She says she recognizes some of the issues raised by Christian, but it’s hard to solve them with the resources they have.

“It’s very different than anything that’s ever been done in the city before,” says Konkel. “So it’s not all rainbows and unicorns all the time.”

Madison Community Development Division Director Jim O’Keefe says he knew the site wouldn’t work for everyone, but he hopes it’s better than the alternative.

“I certainly wouldn’t suggest for a minute that this campground works for everybody or is attractive to everybody,” says O’Keefe. “But I just want to provide the perspective that it’s an alternative, in most cases, to people who have been unsheltered. It’s a fairly dramatic improvement in that respect to many of the conditions that people have left to go there.”

Christian says they’re grateful for what they have, but they’re still pushing for better.

“If we were doing what we could be doing with it, I’d be proud of it. I think that there’s definitely potential there,” says Christian.