Brenda Konkel and her partner Robert Bloch didn’t expect to be rewarded for their decision to open up their front porch to any homeless person who needed a place to rest or store their belongings, but the last thing they could have imagined was that their good deed would go punished.
According to the Madison Capital Times, for the past 18 months the couple have let homeless Madison residents secure their stuff in the dozen lockers they put on their front porch. And when someone needed a safe place to rest at night, Konkel and Bloch welcomed them to stay.
But their selflessness could soon meet an abrupt end after a neighbor complained about the presence of homeless people at their home. The city agreed with the neighbor. According to the zoning code, only people who “are part of a dwelling unit — who have access to and share the interior for housekeeping services — can legally elect to sleep outside of a dwelling unit,” Zoning Administrator Matt Tucker told the Capital Times.
If the couple doesn’t get rid of the lockers this week, they could face fines of as much as $300 per day. The deadline for evicting the porch-dwellers is mid-October.
Homelessness is a growing problem in Madison. A citywide count in 2013 found 831 homeless people living in the city, an increase of 47 percent since 2010. Among those 831 homeless residents were 110 families with children.
Konkel estimated on Facebook that she and her partner have helped more than 60 people over the past year and a half. She noted that many of those they’d helped “were working, but just can’t afford housing or were between homes.” What especially surprised her, though, was how many people they’d helped who were either under 25 years old or over 50.
Just recently, in fact, a 59-year-old man and a young man who was kicked out of his parents’ house had stayed on their porch, Bloch told the Capital Times. “They can go to sleep and not worry that all their stuff will be gone when they wake up, or they’ll be forced to move by police, or that they’ll be hurt in some way,” Bloch said.
People being threatened or assessed with fines for helping the homeless is becoming a trend recently. Earlier this year, a Florida couple was fined $746 for feeding homeless people, while a Birmingham pastor was prevented from doing so because he didn’t have a $500 permit. Even church groups based in St. Louis and Raleigh have been blocked and threatened with arrest for handing out meals to their homeless neighbors.
Serving the homeless isn’t a new cause for Konkel and Bloch. Konkel, who used to serve on the Madison City Council, currently works as the Executive Director of the Tenant Resource Center, a non-profit that seeks to promote tenants’ rights. She has been deeply involved in Occupy Madison, recently earning notoriety for her work helping develop tiny homes for homeless Madison residents.
Though the couple have not publicly declared what they will do about the threatened fine, their underlying beliefs remain. “These are human beings,” she told the Capital Times. “If the city and the county aren’t doing this, why prevent us from doing it?”