(WORT)–Thursday marked the beginning of the latest chapter in what has become something of a never-ending story for Dane County’s homeless day shelter and resource center.
Although the center still exists only on paper, County Executive Joe Parisi says the community is “rounding the corner” in responding to the problem of homelessness.
At a press conference Thursday, Parisi announced that the county had an accepted offer to purchase the current Chamber of Commerce building. Parisi said the two-story, 13,000 square-foot building at the corner of Blair Street and East Washington Avenue was as ideal a site as one could hope for.
“Downstairs is perfect for a day shelter, warming, showers, and kitchen utilization. And upstairs can be used as a resource center, a one-stop shop with offices for counseling and other resources,” said Parisi.
The so-called Messner property at 1326 East Washington has been the proposed site for the day shelter since the county purchased it last September. But Parisi touted the new site, saying it “will require significantly less renovation and be ready quicker. The overall cost is estimated to be a half million dollars less than the Messner site after purchase and renovation.”
The issue of neighborhood resistance to housing the day shelter in the Tenney-Lapham neighborhood was also never fully resolved. Zach Brandon, president of the Chamber of Commerce, said they had not yet reached out to all of their neighbors, which include Atlas Improv Comedy, the Department of Administration, and Blair Street Barbecue, about the sale. But he said their biggest neighbor, Madison Gas and Electric, was very supportive of the idea.
Thursday’s announcement caught many by surprise, including homeless advocates and elected county officials.
County Supervisor Heidi Wegleitner says she only found out Wednesday afternoon. But she says she’s encouraged.
“I think it’s a great location. It’s across the street from the Salvation Army, and within walking distance of many of the men’s overnight shelters.”
But Wegleitner says she still has some concerns about whether the search for a provider to operate the shelter will heed the input homeless people themselves have provided about needed services.
“I certainly agree that we need to get an operator on board as soon as possible, but they have not yet indicated if the request for proposal will include the overnight personal storage and the funding that was recommended by the Homeless Issues Committee and the Homeless Services Consortium Board.”
Since purchasing the Messner site in September, the county had only managed to attract a proposal from one interested operator. Many believe this is because the county expected the operator to fundraise itself to close a considerable funding gap in county, city, and charitable contributions.
Homeless advocate Brenda Konkel says today’s announcement raises more questions.
“The main questions are, is this enough space? How does changing the space change how much it’s going to cost to run it? And after all the changes that they make, what provider is going to apply for this?”
Konkel says she also wants to know who is expected to provide stop-gap services this winter until the Chamber of Commerce building is operational.
Parisi hopes that community providers would be able to cobble together needed services in the short term, so that renovations can take place this winter and the center can open in spring or summer of 2017.
Although there are many stakeholders to consider as the process begins again, Wegleitner says the most important thing is to keep the needs of the homeless themselves front and center.
The county board has yet to discuss and approve a resolution authorizing purchase of the Chamber of Commerce building. Although the body is meeting Thursday evening, such a resolution is not on the formal agenda, although one is likely to be introduced from the floor.