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Saturday, July 31, 2021

The project would incorporate a new homeless shelter, increased mental health services, transitional rooms and income-based housing.

Salvation Army expansion met with public concerns of increased crime

Various neighbors and businesses are organizing to oppose expansion plans for the Salvation Army’s homeless shelter on the Near East Side of Madison due to concerns of increased crime.

The Madison Neighborhood Association will have a hearing committee meeting later in September regarding the proposal for the $25 million expansion project for the shelter.

The project would expand the Salvation Army's current 1.34-acre site to include a new homeless shelter, increased mental health services and transitional rooms, as well as income-based and non-subsidized housing.

The Dane County Salvation Army operates two homeless shelters in its current building at 630 E. Washington Ave. The Salvation Army said that the building, originally a Catholic school, is not suited to meet the needs of Madison’s homeless community.

A hearing held earlier in July found that residents of the neighboring community expressed concerns about noise and safety. At a meeting last Wednesday, those critical of the project stated they want the city to find another location for the expansion project.

Another option proposed by the citizens: creating a security plan to address safety problems in the neighborhood.

Concerns about the current Salvation Army shelter revolve around claims of open drug dealing in the streets, overdoses and theft. Neighbors at the Wednesday meeting gave accounts of break-ins, as well as used syringes left in the street. 

Ald. Patrick Heck, District 2, hopes the expansion plan will be received better at the hearing committee at the end of September.

“I know the Salvation Army has been hard at work developing the concept further,” Heck said. “They’ve been in front of a couple city committees and so their project has evolved and hopefully matured. Hopefully, [the project] addressing some of the other concerns that neighbors and nearby businesses have expressed concern about, namely safety.”

However, the incidents concerning safety are not all directly linked to those staying in the homeless shelter. People are denied aid because there is not enough capacity within the shelter or problems that block them from being admitted, Ald. Heck explained.

“Oftentimes, the people that are off the Salvation Army [grounds] are not necessarily Salvation Army clients,” Heck said. “If they were, they’d be inside sleeping. A lot of the problems have not been on Salvation Army property.”

Still, not every neighbor is against the expansion.

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Edward Kuharski, an architect and resident of the area, pointed out at the Wednesday meeting that one way to decrease the issues on the streets was to expand housing for the homeless.

“We gotta work with these folks who are struggling,” Kuharski said.

Kaitlyn Novotny, the spokeswoman for the Salvation Army of Dane County, shared a similar goal.

“We either continue to serve people in need using a building that was never meant for that or we can improve the building and our processes and serve people better,” Novotny said in an interview before the meeting.

Ald. Heck is optimistic that the expansion plan should ultimately go through. 

“I think [if] they can house more people, there’d be a potential to decrease the number of people that are on the streets,” he said. “There are always going to be some people on the streets, but we’d like to reduce that as much as possible.” 

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