The county plays hardball over the day shelter and the homeless community loses

So this bit of news came out today. Dane County is threatening to sue the Town of Madison over its continued legal efforts to prevent the County from opening a day shelter.

“The Town of Madison continues to stonewall the operation of a day resource center at the exact location where services to the homeless have been provided for ten years,” Parisi said in a statement.

Several observations:

1) It sounds like it’s getting personal
2) The Town of Madison has 120 days to respond, delaying the timeline even more
3) what a great way to gain local support for the facility!
4) I wrote weeks ago that I thought the county should abandon this location and find alternatives, but anyone watching this whole process will think twice about having the county as a neighbor.

Some statistics on homelessness in Dane County

The City of Madison has released its annual report on “The Homeless Served in Dane County.” The full report is here: 2012 Annual Report Final print . The Executive Summary is here: 2012 Annual Report Executive Summary Final

Providers report that they offered shelter to nearly 3400 individuals in 2012, a 10% increase over 2011. Of those individuals, around 42% were families with children; the next largest group was single men, around 40%.

I’ll quote from the summary:

Two-thirds of all individuals who stayed in shelters reported they had lived in Dane County for longer than a year. Only a few percent reported living here for less than a month. These numbers reflect a dramatic change from data collected in the 1990’s when nearly two-thirds of homeless persons reported living in Dane County for less than a month.


The reported data make clear the imbalance between the need for shelter and local capacity to accommodate that need. There are currently nine shelter programs, each serving distinct populations – families, single men, persons fleeing domestic violence, etc. The total capacity among reporting providers is about 310 beds, plus 65 seasonal and overflow beds. Few, if any new beds have been added to the system in the past year. There is also some ability to use motel vouchers for short term stays when necessary, though that is a more costly proposition.
Limited shelter capacity has led to rationing.

There: an admission of fact: “Limited shelter capacity has led to rationing.” Whether or not shelter providers, social service agencies, and local politicians want to admit it, rationing of space is long-standing policy.

One important thing to note about these numbers. They only reflect what is reported to the shelters at intake, and by the shelters to the city. In other words, this report doesn’t account for people who don’t try to access the shelter system. Thus the report doesn’t reflect the true scope of the need nor the true total numbers of homeless people. The only report that attempts to do this is the semi-annual Point-In-Time survey (conducted on January 30 and July 30).

In other news related to the homeless, Brenda Konkel points out that 5 homeless people have died in Madison in recent months.

It’s November 14th? Do you know where homeless people can stay warm on cold winter days in Madison?

I don’t either; at least, not yet. This has been quite the political football or hot potato. I won’t go into the history of efforts to provide a day shelter for Madison’s homeless population this winter but here we are with temperatures in the 30s and there’s still no concrete plan in place.

But hope springs eternal. Joe Tarr is reporting that there is money in Dane County’s 2013 budget for a permanent day shelter, which they hope to open next summer. In the meantime, we’ve got another Wisconsin winter to get through. The County has been working very hard to find space and money for a temporary shelter of some sort, and right now attention is focused on property on E. Washington Ave. The county has already allocated money for its operation through March; there’s a plan in place for staffing and security.

Opposition to the proposed location comes from the Tenney-Lapham Neighborhood Association which had to deal with the poorly planned and organized day shelter last year and have legitimate complaints. In addition, the proposed property is adjacent to an agency that works with families and children dealing with abuse. Obviously putting a day shelter in close proximity to abuse victims is not an ideal situation and it will be crucial to have adequate planning and procedures to address the neighbors’ concerns.

I am much heartened by the County’s willingness to step forward to provide both a short-term solution, and more exciting still is the prospect of a permanent facility that will connect homeless people with necessary services like laundry, showers, and storage, as well as a central location to connect with agencies and programs that can help them find more stable living situations.

Of course, there’s always the City of Madison. Mayor Soglin has opposed the county’s earlier efforts to site the day shelter. According to reports last week, the Common Council put $25,000 toward a day shelter but I don’t know if that line remains in the city’s budget.