So after all that, there won’t be a comprehensive day resource center for the homeless in Madison or Dane County any time soon. I’ve not blogged about the issue recently but the Town of Madison has decided to appeal the Board of Adjustments’ ruling granting the zoning variance to the County for 1490 Martin Street. The town’s opposition to the site had delayed the purchase and renovation of the facility throughout the summer and into the fall. I attended a meeting last week where the best-case scenario was that the County could take possession on January 1, 2015. The Town’s decision to appeal delays that indefinitely.
This raises two important issues. The first is the immediate one. There are practically no plans in place to provide day shelter this winter. There have been several meetings trying to cobble together the same network of services that were available last winter. There’s been some resistance from providers and last year’s experience shows the need for advance planning and provision for weekends when several of the largest providers are not open.
The second issue is long-term. It’s my judgment that at this point the County should acknowledge that the Town of Madison’s delaying tactics succeeded. I suspect, although I do not know, that 1490 Martin St. was latched to by County Staff as an easy solution. It was already being used as a de facto day shelter and the bureaucrats didn’t expect vocal opposition from the neighborhood (something that can be anticipated with the attempted siting of any such facility). And from my perspective, the County Board deserves some criticism for passing the matter off to staff without engaging in the difficult political of finding and securing a location. Add to that the general opposition of the homeless community and their advocates to the Martin Street location, what we have is a classic example of how not to accomplish something in government.
No doubt the scramble is on. We may see a flurry of efforts in the coming days to develop a short-term solution but such temporary efforts bring their own level of uncertainty and chaos, both to the guests who seek services and to those who seek to provide them. Helping people emerge from homelessness and become contributing members of society requires dedicated, long-term engagement. When you’re not sure where you might seek assistance (or a warm place to spend the day) on top of not being sure where you’re going to be spending the night, committing oneself to breaking out of the cycle of homelessness becomes even more daunting.
Members of the County Board were actively exploring the purchase of the MARC East building on Lien Road when we were informed, as a done deal, that we’d be buying Martin Street and that no other option would be considered. There was a lot of concern, amounting to protest, among Supervisors, including myself, who have been most invested in working on homelessness in our community. We knew, and know, that Martin Street was not a long-term viable solution, for a number of reasons. My main reason is because it’s totally landlocked with virtually no outdoor space available. But we decided to make the best of it since there apparently was no other option. Now that is falling apart. We need solutions. And, yes, the scramble is on.