The city of Madison has spent the last seven months of the pandemic attempting to figure out the best method to care for the city’s homeless residents. Homeless shelters, often overcrowded, have struggled with safely housing residents.
Now, a new proposal before the city’s leadership could establish a housing facility for homeless families on the city’s far east side.
Madison officials are currently eyeballing a rezoning of the land around the former Karmenta nursing home facility. The rezoning of the defunct nursing home, located on Milwaukee Street, would allow it to serve as temporary housing for homeless families. Specifically how many it would house is yet to be determined.
The facility is a promising candidate for a new shelter. According to the city’s Planning Division, it would require few changes before reopening.
The proposed ordinance would allow the city to rent out the building to a non-profit organization as a “mission house.” Under the proposal, the building would only be rented out to non-profits that the city contracts with and are approved by the common council.
If the measure passes, that non-profit partner would likely be the Salvation Army of Dane County.
According to the Wisconsin State Journal, the Salvation Army is looking at temporarily leasing the more than 36,000 square foot facility while the non-profit expands its East Washington location. The group is already using federal coronavirus relief funding to house 50 homeless families in hotels.
The Salvation Army of Dane County declined to comment on this story, as the details of the contract and rezoning are still under negotiation.
Despite being in the early stages of debate, the proposal has already drawn comments from residents both for and against.
Six of the nine residents who have submitted comments for the project opposed the development. They argue that the new mission house — which is adjacent to a pre-school, park and liquor story — would draw more crime to the suburban neighborhood.
Madison resident Kate Sandretto supports the measure. Sandretto is not a resident of the neighborhood around the proposed shelter, but she does live just down the street from the Occupy Madison Village — which provides tiny houses for the city’s homeless residents — in the Emmerson East neighborhood.
“And when that was going through the approval process, it experienced a lot of NIMBYism — people who don’t want it in their backyard, don’t want it in their neighborhood, argued that it would increase crime and there would be more drug dealing,” Sandretto says. “I feel that homeless people experience more drug use, alcoholism, other mental health problems in large part because they don’t have a home.”
This isn’t the first time the city has tried to stand up a mission house at the Karmenta site. A previous attempt, introduced in April, was later dropped by the common council after it secured emergency homeless housing at other facilities.
One of those planned facilities, located at the former Play Haven Childcare center on the city’s far east side, was dead on arrival after the seller pulled out of the deal last month a day after it was announced. Details on an alternative to the proposed men’s shelter are still forthcoming.
The measure is currently being debated by the city’s Plan Commission. After tonight’s commission meeting, the proposed ordinance will likely be passed to the common council for review at its meeting on November 17th.
(Photo: Dan Burton / Unsplash)