The Beacon, Madison’s new daytime resource center will open! Finally!

Yesterday was the press conference and ribbon-cutting for The Beacon, Madison’s new daytime resource center for the homeless that will open on October 16 on East Washington Ave. It is a wonderful facility that will offer basic necessities like showers and laundry, separate areas for families and single adults, and space for a wide range of services on the second floor.

I toured the facility a couple of weeks ago with members of Downtown Madison Inc.’s Quality of Life and Safety Committee, where discussion of such a facility has been on the agenda for at least six years. As the tour ended and we chatted about our reaction to the facility, I was overwhelmed with emotion as I recalled the years, all of the hard work and advocacy that were part of this process. I had occasion earlier in the work to go back through this blog and re-read some of my pieces advocating for a permanent day center, as well as my expressions of concern as we seemed to scramble every year with the onset of cold weather to provide somewhere for homeless people to stay warm during the day.

I became involved in efforts to establish a daytime resource center in 2011 when two events focused attention on the problem. The Central Library was scheduled to close for renovation and the State Capitol, which had traditionally served as informal daytime shelter for homeless people continued to restrict access in the wake of the protests in early 2011. Temporary facilities were provided in the winters of 2011-2012 and 2012-2013, but an effort began especially on the part of County government to locate and fund space for a permanent day center. I worked with people who had operated the temporary shelter during one of those winters to create a non-profit that would operate a new facility under contract from the County and over the next several years, several attempts were made to purchase property and begin the process of establishing a day center. Our group finally gave up out of frustration and sheer exhaustion and I turned my attention to other matters.

I was excited and more than a little skeptical when I learned that the County had acquired the property at 615 E. Wash for a permanent daytime resource center. It had purchased another property a few blocks away some time earlier but problems had arisen and given what had happened on past occasions, I suspected that a combination of neighborhood opposition, continued wrangling between the county and city, and the lack of an outside agency with a track record and adequate resources would probably result in failure at this location as well.

My skepticism was tempered when I had the opportunity to meet with Jackson Fonder, the Executive Director of Catholic Charities, the agency that was granted the contract to operate the facility. His competence, excitement, and commitment to the project were obvious and as our first meeting ended, I offered to help with the effort in any way I could. Eventually, Fonder put together a Community Advisory Team consisting of representatives from across the community to offer feedback as the project developed. As a member of that group, it has been a great joy to see at close hand the project’s development, and to build relationships with people from business, government, and the non-profit sector.

It is also a great joy to see what a facility designed and built out for the purpose can look like. Fonder and his associates visited similar facilities across the country, volunteering in them as they visited. This exposure to other cities and other facilities helped clarify for them best practices related to the operations of a daytime resource center and think carefully and creatively about what services such a facility should provide.

As I left the gathering yesterday, I reflected on the significance of the lengthy and difficult process, the amazing results, and what we might learn for future such efforts in our community. Personally, I am immensely grateful for all those who participated in these efforts, and especially for county staff and elected officials who didn’t give up in spite of all of the problems they encountered over the years. I’m also incredibly grateful for Catholic Charities and for Jackson Fonder’s leadership.

I’m thrilled not only that homeless people will have shelter every day throughout the day but that The Beacon will offer access to the services homeless people need to improve their situation.

There’s one other thought that has been running through my head since I first toured the facility several weeks ago. Now we have a state-of-the-art daytime resource center. What might be possible if we made the same effort to create adequate overnight housing for single adults and for families? Our emergency shelter system is woefully inadequate both in terms of the quality of the facilities and in that they cannot provide for all of those in need, especially homeless families. The Beacon shows us what a well-designed facility can look like; it demonstrates that while it may have taken almost a decade, our community can find solutions to the problems we face. And it sheds a bright light on all of the other needs in our community that we still need to address.

Here’s a video tour of The Beacon:

Here’s an article on The Beacon from today’s Cap Times

The story from WKOW.



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.

It wasn’t a pretty sight–Thoughts on the meeting of the Dane County Board of Supervisors

I attended the Dane County Board of Supervisors meeting last night where I spoke in support of the resolution to purchase 1490 Martin St. for a permanent day resource center (The gist of my remarks are here). Coincidentally, a staff member from the Turkish parliament was there to observe the proceedings. He is interested in democracy and local politics. Both of us learned a great deal.

It wasn’t especially edifying. Many people spoke in opposition to the resolution. A large number of those who expressed their opposition were homeless themselves or advocates for the homeless. Many other opponents are neighbors of the facility. Politics does indeed make strange bedfellows. One heard again and again from neighbors about the problems center guests would bring into the neighborhood; the danger they presented. These are arguments brought up every time efforts are made to expand services or locate new programs and facilities in neighborhoods, towns, or cities throughout Dane County and the US. These are arguments some of those same progressives will angrily rebut when their own efforts are being challenged. Last night, however, because NIMBY sentiments played into progressives’ hands, the arguments were allowed to stand.

I’m grateful for those who have worked so hard over the last months and years to make the day center a reality and I am eager to watch how plans for transportation and renovation move forward. I am also excited to see the Day Center open on November 1. It’s the culmination of many people’s dreams and will fill a huge gap in our community’s services for the homeless.

A report of the meeting is available here.


The New Day Resource Center: Making the best of a difficult situation?

The news finally broke yesterday. Dane County has purchased Porchlight’s Hospitality House facility which will be the site of the new Day Resource Center. Here’s the press release.

I’ve written about the need for such a facility before and I’ve also written about the difficulty the County and others have had in finding an appropriate site. In some ways, Hospitality House seems like the path of least resistance. It’s in the Town of Madison rather than in the city so there won’t be much pushback from city administration or alders. It will be located at a site where some of the same services have been offered for years, so there shouldn’t be a lot of pushback from neighbors.

Pat Schneider’s article includes interviews with homeless advocates who are opposed to this location and claim to have been shut out of the process. Here’s where it is: a half-hour bus ride from downtown. While I share their concerns about how this process has played out, I am also acutely aware of how difficult the search for an adequate facility has been. I think it’s safe to say that the downtown area has been carefully searched for possible sites to no avail. One of the problems is that in this real estate market, few property owners are going to want to sell underused land or buildings to the county when they might be able to sell it at a high profit for another upscale apartment complex. I also appreciate that few County politicians or bureaucrats want to start another dust-up with city officials who would likely have opposed any proposed location.

One of the persistent difficulties faced by Hospitality House in the past has been transportation from downtown. Porchlight has operated a van that has transported guests from the Salvation Army and the Drop-In Men’s shelter downtown to Hospitality House but that hasn’t always been an effective means of getting people back and forth. The County will need to assess the transportation needs of the new Day Resource Center and have an effective plan in place when the Center opens in order for this renovated facility to be a success.

What homeless advocates and community members need to do now is work with the county and those who will operate the Day Resource Center to ensure its success. Let’s make sure we get the best facility possible with the necessary resources, fitted out with showers, storage, and laundry, and access to the support services that can help homeless people find adequate housing and stabilize their situations.





Still looking for a site for a day resource center in Madison

Well, the effort to open a year-round day resource center for the homeless in Madison continues. Sometimes it seems there’s more flailing than clear direction. Pat Schneider reports on the latest site under consideration, Porchlight’s Hospitality House. It’s rather closer to downtown than the site they’d been looking at on the east side. Neither site is ideal. Apparently there is nothing available downtown, probably due to a combination of our hot real estate market and the unwillingness of property owners and neighbors to host such a facility.

Hospitality House presents certain challenges. Although it is on a bus line, transportation is still an issue. Porchlight has operated a van service from downtown with varied levels of success over the years and it’s likely that many who would make use of it if it were downtown will simply not bother if it’s too much trouble (or expensive to get there).

It will need significant renovations before it can provide showers and laundry facilities, two things high on any list of day center necessities.  It’s also not clear whether the space will be adequate to offer space to other agencies’ representatives to assist guests with housing, job counseling, and other services.

The chief advantage of the County’s plan, and the key to its success, is that the County expects the center will be run by Sarah Gillmore and the Shine Initiative. Sarah successfully designed and led last winter’s successful day center.

Madison, a town without pity, updated

Joe Tarr (Isthmus) reports on last night’s demo and Homeless Issues Committee meeting, where, you guessed it, a day resource center was on the agenda. Pat Schneider has also written about it.

Because I’m feeling rather nostalgic this evening, I thought I would link to blogposts in 2011 and 2012 that addressed the same issue.

From August, 2012: “A day shelter for Madison” (in which I talk about a patient discharged from the VA hospital and sent to Grace)

From October, 2012

From November, 2012 (my testimony before the County Board of Supervisors)

From November, 2011 (with links to earlier developments in the story)

Couldn’t we all just save energy by referring back to these earlier debates and conversations?  It’s political football season again, with our vulnerable homeless population serving as the football, getting kicked around by bureaucrats and elected officials.