Warming Center Approved

The Dane County Board of Supervisors approved the warming center last night

My testimony:

I speak in support of the warming center. This is a long overdue and much needed addition to the services provided for homeless people in Madison and I look forward with excitement to the possibility of a permanent daytime resource center. The fact of the matter is without such space this winter, homeless people will look throughout the city for other places to keep warm and when they are turned away from private property like stores or office buildings, they will huddle in doorways and no doubt some will die.

No one in this room knows better than I the frustrations, nuisance, and potential danger posed by the presence of homeless people around one’s property. At Grace, we deal with it every day. Just this fall, we have found feces in our stairwells, vomit on the sidewalk, not to mention petty harassment from panhandlers.

You probably know, or could, guess that people are released from prison or jail and sent directly to the shelter at Grace—in the clothes they were wearing when they were arrested, even if that was in July and it’s now November. I doubt many in this room realize that people are discharged from our hospitals directly to the homeless shelters—all of our hospitals, including the VA. I don’t know how often it happens but it seems like every few weeks I’ll encounter someone who has been brought to Grace from a hospital before the shelter opens for the night. It’s happened in hot weather; it’s happened in cold weather. It happened on Christmas Eve last year. Where is such a person to go to wait until the shelter opens that evening? Where is he to go in the morning, especially if, as is often the case, he’s barely ambulatory?

There are significant gaps in our services to the homeless. Some of them are problems like addiction, mental illness, or the healthcare system that have no easy or obvious solutions. Others are relatively straightforward like providing shelter from the elements. For too long we relied on institutions like the Central Library to provide that shelter during the day, to the detriment of its core mission and its users. We have an opportunity now to make a small step in the right direction, to offer warmth, a place to sit, perhaps some services. I hope this step will be followed up with a permanent facility soon.

Is the proposed location the ideal site for a daytime warming center? Probably not. Here we are in mid-November with no viable alternative. I believe that with the staff proposed for the center and the plans for neighborhood outreach and security, many of the problems that plagued the neighborhood last year can be prevented. And I am happy to offer whatever help I can to the service providers and to the neighborhood to see that problems are resolved quickly and with satisfaction.

I am passionate about ministry to the homeless because I am passionate about the Gospel of Jesus Christ that has at its heart ministry to the downtrodden, the widow and orphan, the homeless and hungry. I am also passionate about ministry to the homeless because how society treats the downtrodden is a reflection of its values. I hope that I live in a city and a county that seeks to make sure no one dies on the street because of exposure, that no one lacks a place to sleep, or food to eat.

I urge you to support this important initiative.

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