A Work in Progress — Update On a Day Center for the Homeless

By Heidi Wegleitner, Dane County Supervisor — Many of you have been following the county’s efforts to site a comprehensive day resource center to serve homeless people. Without getting into all the details of the three year saga, the fact remains that we are still looking for a location.

In May of 2014, despite contrary recommendations from the Homeless Issues Committee and advocates, the County Board approved the purchase of 1490 Martin Street in the Town of Madison. Prior to approval of the purchase, I had introduced a budget amendment resolution to increase the capital borrowing authorization from  $600,000 to $4M in order to increase our options to purchase a good facility in the downtown location. The Homeless Issues Committee recommended approval of that budget amendment, but it was never scheduled in the Health and Human Needs Committee and my motion to place it on the County Board Calendar last summer was defeated.

It was argued that, despite all the concerns and issues identified by advocates, swift approval of the Martin Street purchase was the only way we could get a day resource center opened by November 1, 2014. If only...

The Martin Street location has been operating as a small day shelter for about 10 years by Porchlight, Inc. County staff believed that this location would facilitate a swift opening of the overdue comprehensive resource center because of the existing use and the County's authority in zoning determinations in the Town of Madison.

 

Jurisdictional Dispute: The Town, which opposed the day center, placed several conditions on the County's plans and challenged the determination of the County that the use was permitted. The Town appealed the zoning determination to the Board of Adjustment, which upheld the County determination late last summer, then filed a lawsuit for judicial review of the Board of Adjustment's decision.

The County filed a related lawsuit challenging the Town's conditions for the day center. In mid-May, Judge Niess reversed the County and decide in favor of the Town's position that the day center required a conditional use permit and on July 9, Judge Remington heard a motion to dismiss the County's lawsuit against the Town.

 

Lining Up Funding: The County Executive has not stated that he is abandoning the Martin Street site, but since learning of Judge's Niess's decision, County board leaders have moved swiftly on another resolution, Res. 72, to authorize an additional $2M in capital borrowing for the day center and redirect the search downtown with close collaboration with the City of Madison.

Res. 72, which requires 25 votes for passage as a budget amendment, already has 23 supervisors signed on as co-sponsors and has been recommended for approval by both the Homeless Issues Committee and the Health and Human Needs Committee. Another resolution to amend the operating budget to add $100,000 for unmet homeless needs was introduced at the same time and has a similar level of support. Additional operating money is needed because the Human Services Department has moved money (to services at Bethel, etc.) out of the day center operating line because we do not yet have a site ready to open.

Res. 76 is being held at the Health and Human Needs Committee until we have more information about prospective properties downtown and the operational needs for a day resource center or gap services in the event we do not open a new day center in 2015.

For several months, Brenda Konkel and I have met with Madison Alders, including PD Alders Rummel and Zellers, and City planning and development staff regarding potential downtown locations. The City has moved forward with an RFP on plans to retrofit the Fairchild Building next to the County parking ramp on the corner of Doty and Fairchild for possible use as a men's shelter or homeless day resource center.

City staff indicate that a men's shelter is much more likely than a day resource center at that location and thus we continue to pursue other properties downtown. At the Mayor's direction, one site was identified as a top prospect and it is being reviewed by architects for the County.

Due to  major expected renovations, it is unclear whether County staff will support moving forward at this location. It is my understanding that once County staff gets more information about the viability of this site, including the cost and timeline for renovation, more information will be provided to elected officials and the public about development plans, if any.  

 

Scattered Services Continue: In the meantime, the City and County continue to fund day services at various locations, including the Monday through Friday shelter at Bethel Lutheran, Porchlight's Hospitality House on Martin Street, limited showers at the Catholic Multicultural Center, Project Bubbles for laundry, storage at the Social Justice Center, a porta-potty at the City–County Building, case management at the Main Branch Library, and van transportation to limited services around the County.

This is a costly and inefficient way to fund inadequate services to folks who are homeless, but it means that there are some existing funding streams that could be redirected to operate the day center once it is opened.

Although the process has been incredibly slow and frustrating, I am hopeful that the additional resources being authorized and the close collaboration with City planning staff will result in a much better location for the day resource center.

 

Contact Your Supervisor! While we continue to work to identify a site, we need your help making sure we have enough funding for the purchase and renovations and to successfully operate the site once it is opened. Please ask your supervisors to sign on to Res. 72 and Res. 76 to support the day resource center and homeless contingency line and ask your elected officials to make the day center a priority in the 2016 Budget.

Advocates believe that the comprehensive day resource center is a critical link not only to basic needs like showers, storage, and bathrooms, but also to services critical to ending homelessness.

County staff has stated that $100,000 will be included in the base of the Human Services proposed budget and the United Way is being pulled along as well. The City Council appears supportive, but the Mayor does not favor City funds for operating the day center. Well-paid and highly qualified day center staff, street outreach workers, housing locator services, and coordinated intake for homeless services at the day center require a significant commitment in resources, but it is an investment that will save us money because we will be more efficiently moving people from streets and shelter to housing.

Of course, these services must be combined with increased investments in housing first, permanent supportive housing, and low income housing development.  

 

Housing, Not Persecution: Quality services and housing are the solutions to homelessness, not the criminalization policies advocated by the Mayor. We can continue to make progress on our housing justice agenda, but we need to continue engaging, organizing, and agitating with people directly impacted by homelessness.

Join Madison Homeless and Affordable Housing Advocates United to get involved on these issues. Koz, Brenda, and I cooperate in organizing meetings and formulating agendas. Contact one of us to get added to our groups.

Facebook — https://www.facebook.com/groups/mhaahau/

Email Group — mahahau@prodane.org

In struggle —Heidi