Homeless day center approved

by Jason Millis

Dane County recently acquired a vacant building downtown to establish a permanent homeless day resource center.

The Dane County Board approved the purchase of the Messner Corp. building at 1326 E. Washington Ave. for $1,425,000 to serve as the permanent site for the center.

Additional funding to renovate and keep the site operating will be needed but County Supervisor Heidi Wegleitner believes that it won’t be an issue because current funds being put towards the types of services offered in this center will likely be redirected to fund this center.

The new building for the homeless day center. (Jason Millis)

The new building for the homeless day resource center. (Jason Millis)

The county has presented information to the public that shows that it will provide $100,000 to the operating expenses of the project, $50,000 will be provided by the city, and $100,000 will be provided by the United Way.

Wegleitner believes that other savings might offset the costs.

“It will save money in the long run because people in the shelter are more likely to use the emergency room or be thrown in jail because there are no legal places to sleep,” said Weigleitner.

Plans for establishing this center have been in the works at the county level dating back to 2012. This location was chosen because of the proximity to bus lines, downtown and major bike paths and parks. The center will provide a variety of services to the homeless population in Madison.

The offer for purchase of the building was made in late September and the purchase was approved by the Dane County Health and Human Needs Committee in a meeting on October 20 of this year.

“This community has waited many years for a one-stop shop containing critical services to help those in need,” said Dane County Executive Joe Parisi in a press release. “The county is eager to work with the neighborhood, community leaders, elected officials and the city of Madison to gather input, address questions the community may have, and ultimately make a downtown day resource center a reality by October 2016.”

The plan has yet to clear the Madison Common Council or find its way in front of the zoning committee to obtain a conditional use permit, that allows the community and city to determine if the new use of the building is in the best interest of the properties already in the neighborhood, for the renovation. This is the biggest hurdle facing the project as city and neighborhood concerns could see a delay in the project timeline.

“It will depend on the conditional use permit and what conditions are being sought,” Wegleitner said. “Plenty of factors could delay this. I hope that is not the case and that we can work hard to address the concerns and meet the conditions that satisfy neighbors and the community.”

The county has many plans for the center: In addition to providing for peoples’ basic needs including showers, haircuts washing machines and personal storage spaces, the center is also expected to offer legal services, psychological services, resting areas and writing workshops. One office in the center will connect people to affordable housing and to landlords willing to rent to them.

However, the center will only be open during the day and will assist people in finding a place to sleep at night.

The county has had similar centers in the past, but each of those locations were temporary. Previous centers were on East Washington Avenue and at the intersection of East Washington and South Hancock, where Bellini Restaurant is now.

“I’m even more hopeful for this space,” said Weigleitner. “Much more money, much more room. There are all sorts of potential for what the facility could offer.”

The county sought proposals for operation of the facility in early December. A team of people will evaluate responses and select an operator.

“It is going to be an accessible place for people on the street and hopefully connect them to the housing and support they need to shorten the time they are homeless,” said Wegleitner.

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