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Monday, April 21, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 59.0° F  Mostly Cloudy
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Despite setback, Occupy Madison hopeful about raising money to buy a facility

Group members are happy with the awareness they are raising and the community support they have gotten.
Group members are happy with the awareness they are raising and the community support they have gotten.
Credit:John Waters
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Occupy Madison is doing whatever it can to help create housing opportunities for the homeless, and that includes selling pie. Occupy activists and members of the community came together Tuesday at the Fountain on State Street for "Occu-Pie," a fundraiser for the group that is focused on serving the needs of the homeless by creating a permanent facility called OM House.

The group received some bad news Monday, finding out that a housing opportunity it had been working towards on Fordem Avenue was purchased by another group, but members are staying optimistic.

"We've been working hard and fast, so a little bit of a setback isn't really a surprise" Brenda Konkel says. "The community response has been amazing, for a start-up non-profit to have this response, with everyone bringing in baked goods tonight, and already having $11,000 in donations."

Occupy Madison Inc. became an official non-profit in December, growing out of the protest encampment that occupied an East Washington lot during the winter of 2011-12. Group member Bruce Wallbaun explains that the focus on homelessness came out of the community coming together for the national Occupy movement and saw how encampments like the one on 800 East Washington became the home for people who didn't have one.

"The core people working on Occupy, they wanted it to continue for the people who made it their homes," Wallbaun says. "There is no legal place for them."

After having to leave the East Washington location, the homeless community has been moved 27 times, according to the group. Currently a group of around 20 are located at Token Creek Park, but they will be forced by Dane County to leave on Feb. 17 and Wallbaun says the county refuses to hold discussions with Occupy Madison.

If disappointed by the challenges, group members are happy with the awareness they are raising and the community support they have gotten.

"Right now we are focused on trying to find housing for the people at Token Creek," member Allen Barkoff says. "Money is one issue, which the fundraising is helping. The other is a 'not in my backyard' mentality and a lack of support from the city."

Members of the group say there are several other properties that they have been looking at, although they are shy about sharing the details as the last two buildings they considered ended up not working out. They are trying to successfully develop one into a functional home for the homeless using a cooperative model.

"We are in a position to make a significant down payment," Wallbaun says, emphasizing that these people need a place to go that is better than sleeping on a bench.

"The campsite is better, but I compare it to my experience [after Hurricane] Katrina," Wallbaun says.

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