City News

Beacon staff chart path forward after issues with neighbors, local businesses

Around 90 people attended a forum at The Beacon Wednesday to discuss its services and ways it could improve community relations.

Image By: Cameron Lane-Flehinger and Cameron Lane-Flehinger

In January, the Madison Police Department received 73 calls to service for The Beacon, a homeless day resource center in east Madison. That location was the second-largest call generator that month.

In February, with 62 calls, The Beacon was the largest call generator.

“The volume of calls was unsustainable for my team and represented safety and security concerns for Beacon staff and their clientele whose ability to receive necessary services was negatively impacted,” wrote Central Police Chief Jason Freedman in a blog post.

On Wednesday, in a community meeting with around 90 people including local business owners and central police officers, Beacon staff made it clear they were invested in improving relations with the community.

Changes that have already been made have included additional on-site security, improving staff training and editing the center’s code of conduct. And whether those changes are entirely responsible for recent success, the data is evident: as of March 30, the center only had 28 calls to service.

After the meeting, Jackson Fonder, president and CEO of Catholic Charities, the organization that operates The Beacon, said he felt encouraged.

“For the most part, 90 percent of the people here, are pretty respectful about what we’re doing, they like what we’re doing and they’re not afraid to share their ideas,” he said.

Fonder, as well as central district officers, acknowledge that The Beacon is not going anywhere and it’s important that there’s a constant dialogue between stakeholders. The center has only existed for five months since its launch last October.

“We have to communicate to the community so we’re a good neighbor,” he said. “Getting in front of this group three or four times a year is critical to our success.”

Freedman was also in attendance and made it clear that the services The Beacon provides inherently opens itself to obstacles.

“As we all know, the population that is being served here, the guests that are coming here, are struggling,” he said. “No matter where they are, they are going to cause some issues.”

On the other hand, he said The Beacon is vital because it creates the opportunity “to break some cycles.”

Fonder said accomplishing that goal while maintaining good community relations is a challenge.

“Somehow The Beacon has to slide in here, deliver the services, and still be a good neighbor,” he said. “That’s a tough balance.”

In order to keep track of progress, Freedman and Central District Neighborhood Officer Ken Brown say it’s imperative community members call the department when necessary.

“When you call, it generates a record in our system and it helps for us to prioritize not only where we go, but when we go and maybe some of our approaches,” said Freedman.

Brown also highlighted the increased value of his work as a neighborhood officer to make sure both community members and Beacon attendees are familiar with him.

“I’m not tied to calls for service, so I’m not patrolling,” he said. “I have that time to build those relationships and foster that trust in the community.”

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