Plan for homeless day shelter creates division between city, county, and advocates
Post by Emily Mills on 8/2/2012 12:00pm
Discussion about a proposal for a homeless day shelter in the city of Madison turned heated during a committee meeting Tuesday evening that involved county Supervisors, a city alder, and representatives from both the homeless community and those working on their behalf.
The resolution, first introduced by Dane County Supervisor John Hendricks, states that the County “intends to support using money from the general levy to provide capital funds for a day center in this upcoming budget cycle if the operating funds are secured by another source, like the City of Madison.”
It was that last part that had Ald. Bridget Maniaci, the lone city representative on the City-County Homeless Issues Committee that met Tuesday, on the defensive.
“The attitude at the city has been that you guys are trying to make some cheap political points by doing this,” Maniaci charged. She expressed concern that the proposal was just “feel good language” and wouldn’t actually accomplish anything. Maniaci also suggested that it was the county that normally handled funding for social services and operational costs, not the city.
Porchlight’s Steven Schooler agreed. “I want to make sure we’re coming up with something that’s more than just pie in the sky,” he said.
Supervisor Heidi Wegleitner countered the accusation by noting that it was the city that asked the county to create the committee in the first place, and that they were simply trying to “move the ball forward” on the issue.
“We understand funding still needs to be worked out, but the resolution shows that Dane County supports the plan,” said Wegleitner. “If the day center can find another source for operating funds we are committed to finding capital funds for the purchase of the day center building. The resolution is vague about funding numbers, because it’s meant as a statement of support. This was the clearest piece of the puzzle to take some action on immediately.”
The meeting began with a presentation by Linda Ketcham of a report conducted by Madison-area Urban Ministries that laid out the needs of the homeless population in Madison, including those displaced when the Occupy site on East Washington was cleared earlier this year.
That site had become a de facto shelter over the winter months, after several other official locations (the Capitol basement, Central Library) were shut down.
The tent camp has since moved out to Lake Farm Park, where the group has been renting three sites for the maximum 14-day stay allowed before uprooting to Mendota Park for two days and then starting the cycle over again.
The report solicited ideas directly from the homeless, who expressed the serious need for a warming shelter before next winter, as well as a day center that would provide a series of basic services to help people get back on their feet.
Included in the proposal are showers, private lockers, a small kitchen area with refrigerator (specifically for the storage of medications like insulin), laundry facilities, and computers so that individuals can access online job applications and services.
The Tenant Resource Center recently proposed the same idea to the city after it was learned that no one had pitched a warming shelter as part of the emergency shelter grant from the federal government. That idea was turned down for not “having enough details,” says TRC’s executive director Brenda Konkel.
Since then, however, the group has fleshed out the plans: They have a specific building along the East Washington corridor picked out for the center, and are lining up community partners to run different parts of the operation, including the Bubbles program that provides showers and laundry services to the homeless.
Konkel sees the dire need for such a center on a regular basis, and says many of the homeless people she talks to have similar complaints about the existing system of services in the city. “The whole system is so complicated,” she notes. People have to run all over town to get everything from bus passes to computer access, storage space and laundry.
That’s a difficult, if not impossible, prospect when a person doesn’t have a car or money.
There are also strict rules and limits at the existing shelters. Single men have only 60 nights in the shelter before they’re kicked out. Women with children have just 30 nights at the Salvation Army.
The only private lockers currently available are through St. Vincent de Paul and are only accessible twice a week. This presents major problems for people who have to carry basic necessities on their backs. Konkel herself installed 15 lockers on her front porch, all of which are currently in use.
“One of the guys who started using a locker has chronic back problems,” she relates. “He told me once he was able to leave all his stuff there for the day, ‘It changed my life.’ He’s not in pain all the time anymore.”
Konkel wants to see the new day shelter’s rules and programming determined by the people who use it, to help avoid those conflicts and instill a sense of respect and ownership.
The idea of the shelter is to help in “getting the street off their back” in general, says Konkel. Having a one-stop shop for basic information and services would go a long way toward accomplishing that goal.
Konkel notes that the TRC intends to go forward with plans for the day shelter regardless of what happens on the city and county level with funding. If no money is forthcoming, she says, they’ll scramble to find volunteers and donors to help run things. The important part is getting something up and running by October.
At the committee meeting on Tuesday both Maniaci and Schooler favored referring the resolution to the next meeting, but the final vote count supported passage.
“You’re a little late in the budgeting process for this,” Maniaci stated. “Private partnerships are a better option at this point. I would have liked to seen this a while ago. I don’t think this is ready for prime time.”
“We should pass now as good first step,” countered Supervisor Leland Pan. “It’s meant to be a statement of support. It’s not intended to be a laid out, detailed plan.”
The resolution next goes before the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) committee at their meeting Thursday night at 5 p.m. in room 260 of the Madison Municipal Building.
Emily Mills is Editor-At-Large for Dane101, as well as Editor of Our Lives Magazine. She is also a freelance writer, photographer, actor, and musician (drummer and singer in local band Little Red Wolf). Originally from several states up and down the Midwest Emily has called Madison home since 2000. Contact her at