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Extensive debris, garbage left behind in Milwaukee's 'tent city'

Posted at 6:30 AM, Nov 15, 2019
and last updated 2019-11-18 06:16:19-05

The area known as Tent City, under the Marquette Interchange, is now mostly empty and littered with garbage.

The State Department of Transportation ordered people camped out on the state-owned land to leave by October 31.

On a recent walk through the area, TODAY'S TMJ4 found only a handful of campers left.

However, there was extensive debris and garbage left scattered around Tent City.

Some of the more unusual items: a medical walker, recliner-style chairs, a torn up mattress, and bins of donated clothes and shoes dumped out and strewn around large parts of the area.

A spokesperson for the Department of Transportation said there's no official timeline for when the land would be cleaned up.

But he added he hopes it will be clear by the end of this week.

"Any garbage removal has been handled by the City or by a company contracted by WisDOT," he said. "We will not have final numbers on cost (of the cleanup) until we know just how much (debris) is removed."

But while Tent City is now quiet, Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) reports from police and statistics from Bell Ambulance paint a somewhat chaotic picture of the last several months there.

An open records request filed with Milwaukee Police produced written history of 26 police calls in the area. The records, or CAD reports, record all radio traffic/messages sent to and from squad cars and dispatchers on each particular assignment.

Some of the CAD reports were fairly boring: a call about bonfires burning at Tent City April 3, a call about a person lying in the grass on April 17, a report of a man with an ankle injury on June 2, and a June 30 welfare check on a person who's girlfriend believed he was living in Tent City at the time.

In a June 4 police call, CAD records show a caller reported a battered male, bleeding from the ear, breathing, but unresponsive, near the Greyhound Bus terminal at 433 W. Saint Paul Avenue.

The subject "told the caller he was robbed," according to the CAD document, and later told investigators he was "hit with a bat."

Police records detail how the suspect in the attack, "carrying a bat," was "last seen under the interstate bridge, at Tent City," according to the subject who called MPD.

Just eight days later, June 12, CAD records show another call came in from the Intermodal Station at 433 W. Saint Paul Avenue, with the caller reporting trouble with a "disorderly subject at the location who is from Tent City."

On June 21, CAD reports show officers were called on two separate occasions that day for reports of troubling behavior at Tent City.

One call came in from the Hyatt Regency Hotel at 333 W. Kilbourn Ave. in which a woman reported "a female pulled a machete on (the caller) 6 hours ago in Tent City."

On the same day, CAD documents show police were called to assist another government agency who responded to Tent City after reports of a juvenile female living there with a 19-year old man.

One June 29, a man called police to report a "big gash" on his forehead after he was allegedly assaulted by a female, according to a CAD report. The caller said that female was living in Tent City.

The next day, June 30, a Tent City resident called police, according to CAD documents, after a group of people "tried to batter him" and then followed him to Potawatomi Hotel & Casino at 1721 W. Canal St. The caller said he "fears for his safety" and wanted to wait at Potawatomi until first responders arrived.

He told police his alleged attackers "stay in Tent City, where he also stays," according to the CAD report of the incident.

Records of a July 7 police call document yet another instance of alleged violence, in which a female caller stated "she is at Tent City," and a man "struck her in the eye."

According to a CAD of the incident, the caller told dispatchers her male attacker broke her phone and prevented her from calling authorities right away.

A similar call on October 9 reported a brutal fist fight between a man and woman, in which the caller told police a 40-year old man was "bleeding from the head," according to CAD records.

But even more violent was a call that came in to dispatchers on September 26, according to a CAD report, in which the caller stated he was robbed and left bleeding after he was "surrounded" by attackers who "hit him and stole from him."

The victim told officers his attackers stole a wallet from him with roughly $30 in it. He also told investigators the perpetrators of the alleged robbery were "under the bridge by the tents."

TODAY'S TMJ4 also reached out to Bell Ambulance for a record of medical and other emergency calls that occurred in and around Tent City.

Records from Bell Ambulance show 76 calls in and around Tent City, and believed to have involved people who were living at Tent City at the time, from May 1 until November 12 - almost two weeks after the state ordered the area vacated.

"The calls were not for 76 different individuals," said Chris Anderson, Director of Operations, said. "It was probably closer to 55 or so."

Among the incidents Bell Ambulance responded to, according to those numbers, were 12 falls, 10 calls for assault/battery, 4 drug overdoses, 2 calls for traumatic injury, 1 call for a fracture, 1 call for lacerations, and even 1 call for labor/child birth.

"The entirety of Tent City fell within our 911 service area, so we're contracted by the city to respond there," said Chris Anderson, Director of Operations at Bell Ambulance.

He said there was definitely a trend of fights at Tent City, as was documented in both Bell Ambulance's statistics and the CAD call history produced by MPD.

Anderson said the vast majority of the fights were between Tent City residents.

"It was usually not an outsider fighting with someone who lived there," Anderson said.

The call data provided by Bell Ambulance, which covers a 196-day period, tells a story of less than one (.38 to be exact) calls per day at Tent City.

Anderson said, in his opinion, Bell Ambulance crews were called to Tent City roughly once per day during the height of the activity there.

He said it was difficult to compare call volume at Tent City to residential neighborhoods. But he said special events and large gatherings in Milwaukee typically average "one call per hour."

But while he wasn't particularly concerned by the volume of calls at Tent City, Anderson added Bell Ambulance crews responding there often faced a number of challenges.

"Who's the patient? Where are they? How do we get to them?" Anderson said. "It often meant walking over grass, over hills, through mud, and you just didn't know what you were going to face."

He said many of the 911 calls for Tent City came in from callers driving by who could only report a brief overview of what was occurring and provide the nearest intersection before leaving the area.
Anderson said, in his opinion, Tent City as a whole was a very unsafe, unhygienic area for people to be living in.

"There were a handful of situations where we were trying to find someone we were called to help, and then we'd find another person who needed help in the process. So that would end up becoming a second request," he said.

Anderson noted all of the aforementioned obstacles could be detrimental to someone's chances of successfully surviving and/or recovering from a traumatic injury sustained during a fight or fall at Tent City.

"If you're talking about a significant, traumatic injury, spending 10 or 15 minutes finding the individual, that's huge," Anderson said. "That's 25 percent of the time you should be spending getting them to the hospital. Within an hour of that injury occurring they should be at the hospital."

Extensive debris, garbage left behind in Milwaukee's 'tent city' by TODAY'S TMJ4 on Scribd

Below is a full breakdown of the Bell Ambulance responses to the area in/around Tent City from May 1 until November 12:

Fall - 12
Assault/Battery - 10
Sick - 6
Overdose - 4
Incapacitated - 4
Abdominal pain - 4
Altered level of consciousness - 3
Headache/Head pain - 3
Unknown medical - 3
Respiratory distress - 2
Can not walk - 2
Psychiatric - 2
Chest pain - 2
Dizzy syncopal - 2
Leg/Foot pain - 2
Diabetic complications - 2
Traumatic injury - 2
Labor/Child birth - 1
Shooting/stabbing - 1
Seizure - 1
Tachycardia - 1
Extremity edema - 1
Medical alarm - 1
Nausea/Vomiting - 1
Lacerations - 1
Fractures - 1
Arm/Hand/Finger pain - 1
Unconscious - 1