This week in homelessness

Another flurry of news (to go with the week’s snowstorm) on homelessness in Madison.

First the not-so-good. The property Occupy Madison was hoping to purchase for housing was sold to another buyer. The group held a successful fundraiser this week and is hoping to locate another property that would suit its needs.

Token Creek, where Occupy has spent most of the winter was under water this week. Fortunately, churches in Sun Prairie again opened their doors. They have to leave the county park in February, and there are no solutions to this ongoing crisis. Here’s a pic of the scene from earlier this week:

76321_4144614817646_874521071_nIt’s not my photo; it was shared with me and if you would like to know more, I would be happy to speak with you privately.

A couple of pieces on Sarah Gillmore and the Day Center. From Joe Tarr of Isthmus, a profile and a look at what’s happening at the day center, as well as some questions about the future after the temporary facility closes in March. I’ll put a plug in for Sarah. I first met her almost three years ago and was knocked over by her passion, her no-nonsense approach, and her deep commitment to the homeless community. She rocks! Here’s an interview with her as well.

Also from Joe Tarr, a brief piece on an effort to provide a shelter for homeless vets. The man he interviews was homeless and a guest at the Drop-In Shelter in December after being released from the VA hospital. Where have we heard that story before?

Right now, the best place to find out about needs of the homeless community in Madison and how you can help, is the Feeding the State Street Family facebook page.

It’s going to be bitterly cold tonight again.

It’s cold in Madison tonight, do you know where you’ll be sleeping?

Do you care where the homeless are sleeping tonight? Some people in Madison do.

This week’s cold snap has demonstrated the power, innovation, and love of Madison’s newly-energized community of advocates for the homeless. They’ve exploited social media to highlight the problems, strategize solutions, and mobilize the community. The bitterly cold weather energized activists and volunteers in new ways, to provide shelter for those who remained homeless last night–at a church in Sun Prairie and at Prairie UU Church. And now there’s an effort to actually plan for weather emergencies! You can follow all of this at the Feeding the State Street Family facebook group, and find out how to help out. A brief visit to that group will also make clear who all are taking leadership and pointing the way forward.

There really are some amazing things occurring around homelessness in Madison. For example, there’s the work of Sarah Gillmore and the staff and volunteers at the Daytime Warming Shelter. They’ve got a website that details everything that’s going on from help with resumes to yoga. And each week there’s an update on news and other activities. Here’s this week’s.


And Occupy is working to purchase a building to provide transitional housing. You can read about that here.

If that’s not enough, it looks like we’re making progress as well in beginning to talk about shelter for people with medical needs.

A news item last week helps to explain the continued prevalence of homelessness in Madison. The vacancy rate for rentals in Dane County is a little over 2%, meaning that landlords can be very choosy and as we all know, when demand exceeds supplies, prices rise. According to statistics compiled by Madison Gas and Electric, the vacancy rate in several Madison zip codes is 1.5% or below. This vacancy rate may also explain the boom in apartment construction, though from what I can tell, most of that is directed at students or the high-end market.


Update on homelessness in Madison

First, an update on the day shelter on E. Washington (from a letter written by the director, Sarah Gillmore, to neighbors (h/t Brenda Konkel):

Greetings Neighbors,

As Week 7 begins, I want to share information and request that if anyone has comments, observations, questions, and/or compliments, to please share them back.

We have been averaging around 125 people/day.

Over this period of time, with this volume of people, we have contacted MPD for assistance 5 times:

First call (mid-December) was to report that a new-to-us guest hit another guest. Our justice team got the “hitter” out of our building within seconds, and contacted MPD to make report.

The other four calls to MPD were for assistance in helping four separate guests obtain medical help.

Our volunteer team continues to do patrols of the neighborhood; we have added litter pick-up to this task, as well.

We have needs for volunteers to conduct workshops in: child programs, adult art/crafts, adult computer literacy, and tax preparation.

Thanks for working together with us. There are about 12 more weeks left with us as your neighbors

I won’t compare those statistics with the average number of calls to 911 from the Drop-In Shelter…

At our most recent First Monday meal, I was struck by how guests actively responded to problems. Guests are beginning to take responsibility for making sure others behave appropriately.

News has finally broken about the efforts of Occupy Madison to purchase a building on Madison’s north side that may ultimately provide single room occupancy for homeless people. The article from is here. Isthmus coverage here.

I’m sure this will be a contentious issue as well but for all the NIMBY’s out there, a recent study suggests that homeless facilities may increase neighboring property values

Homelessness in Madison–The Future of Occupy Madison

It’s been a while since I’ve blogged about homelessness. Two statistics, one is somewhat anecdotal, the other backed up by a survey. First, Porchlight reports that they saw higher numbers in the men’s shelter this winter than ever before. There were more than 150 guests many nights, which meant men sleeping on the floors of the overflow shelters, with nothing but a blanket. This, in spite of the fact that we had one of the mildest winters on record.

In addition, the current vacancy rate for rentals in Dane County is around 2%, down from 6% in 2006. Why are there homeless people? For one reason, there’s nowhere for them to go. The recession has seen a drop in home ownership, foreclosures, and the like. People who once owned homes or in a better economy might be purchasing one, are renting, putting pressure on the rental market, which means landlords can raise rents.

But there’s been an interesting development. In spite of the huge numbers of people in shelters, and the large numbers being turned away, Occupy Madison, which has been present on a vacant property on East Washington Avenue for the last six months, has become a center for homeless activism and empowerment. They approached the city about finding a new site for their tent city; testified before City Council, and have raised the issue of homelessness in a new way in this city. We’ll see what happens.

The mainstream media’s coverage can be followed here. Pat Schneider’s blog post is here.

Brenda Konkel has been following the story closely, and has offered insight into the mayor’s and alders’ perspectives. She reports on the testimony of Occupy Madison participants before the Common Council as well as other material.

The reality is that the issue is much larger than any one thing. People become homeless for all kinds of reasons–unemployment, substance abuse, family situations, crime, medical conditions–and helping people to regain stability requires intensive support from many sources and directions. The men’s Drop-In Shelter is just that, a temporary place to stay for men who are on the streets. It’s not transitional housing; it can’t provide the intensive services necessary to help men find solutions to their situations.

Just in the last couple of weeks, I’ve talked to guys who came to the shelter directly from prison, from hospitals, or because their family situation had deteriorated to such a degree that the street was a better place for them. Some of them were working, at least part time, some of them were in school; all of them wanted a little help to get them out of their immediate situation into something better. I have also heard time and again, from various sources, that one of the problems of the drop-in shelter is that it doesn’t provide the kind of community necessary to help people get out of their situations.

I’ve not visited the current site of Occupy Madison (I did when they were located closer to the square, earlier last Fall). But from the testimony to Common Council, it sounds like what has developed there is something of a community, a network of support that can sustain people in their current situation. The city, and social service providers, should find ways to support this community and help it thrive.