Last week, Dane County Executive Joe Parisi announced his intention to extend the county’s Pandemic Emergency Hotel Shelter Program through at least February 2023.
The Emergency Hotel Shelter Program, which started at the onset of the pandemic in March of 2020, houses unhoused folks in Dane County in area hotels, instead of at a normal shelter, to help fight the spread of COVID-19.
Dane County Executive Joe Parisi, says that he sees the program as a big success.
“At the peak of the program, we served about 400 people in hotel rooms. At the same time, soon after, we instituted a program where we helped assign case managers and dollars to help people acquire permanent housing through our Hotels to Housing program, and over the past couple of years we’ve been very successful at moving people from (the) hotels to housing. Between our program and other programs, we’ve had over 250 people successfully find housing,” Parisi says.
Under the new expansion, the program would continue to offer individual shelter for unhoused folk until September 30. That part of the program allows people to stay in a hotel, instead of in a normal homeless shelter, to reduce the spread of COVID-19 to unhoused folks at a higher risk of severe illness.
The extension will also continue their isolation and quarantine shelter through February 2023. This provides unhoused folks a place to stay while they isolate and recover from the virus. At the peak of the Omicron variant in the Winter of 2021 and 2022, the program served over 110 people at one time.
Parisi says that this will allow the around 65 people still in the hotel to find a more permanent place to stay.
“We’ve been keeping that going for as long as we can, and we’re starting to run out of money, but we felt, especially with COVID and the new variant out there, we still needed some more time to find housing for the last people in the program. We just want to do everything we can to help these folks who are still there find housing, or if not (at least) explore other alternatives and make sure we can help out as many people as possible,” Parisi says.
The extension of the program will cost the county a little over $3 million dollars, which would come out of aid provided by the American Rescue Plan. So far, the county has spent over $23 million dollars on the program since 2020.
Brenda Konkel is the Executive Director of MACHOne Health, an advocacy group for unhoused folks here in Madison, and runs the Dairy Drive Tiny Home encampment. While they are not directly involved in the Hotel Shelter Program, Konkel says that she is pleased to see that the program has worked so well.
“I think it really shows that a housing-first model, where you worry about finding housing first and then you worry about everything else, is a model that works and can be successful, even here in Madison. We have this really tight rental market, and people are still getting into housing. I think the hotel program really shows what could be if we continue with these types of programs,” Konkel says.
The resolution to authorize the extension is expected to go before the Dane County Board in the coming weeks.
Photo courtesy: Eunice Stahl / UNSPLASH