Madison and Dane County officials officially opened a temporary homeless shelter for men capable of housing 250 people on Madison’s east side on Friday.
This new site, located at 2002 Zeier Road, formerly served as a retail building until the property was purchased by the City of Madison for $2.6 million. Madison city officials converted the 45,000-square-foot structure into a temporary shelter in the span of two weeks.
The shelter contains approximately 250 beds and also provides bathrooms and a dining hall with managers of the facility hoping to increase capacity and offer other services, such as laundry, in the near future.
City Community Development Director Jim O’Keefe explained in an interview with the Wisconsin State Journal that the new facility offers significant improvements from the Warner Park community Recreation Center, which has been used since March as an improvised shelter.
“The move from Warner Park is being done to take advantage of a larger venue that provides more space for safety reasons and to accommodate more guests, should the need arise,” O’Keefe said. “Warner had capacity to serve 135 men, perhaps a few more. First Street can easily accommodate 250, more if needed. We don’t really know what the winter will bring but we need to be ready.”
The shelter is strategically located on the public transit route and a new Rapid Transit stop is planned to be constructed nearby, both of which will allow for maximum access to the shelter.
In an interview with The Cap Times, Mayor Rhodes-Conway voiced her hopes that the new space could become more than a shelter, but instead a community resource.
“It’s everyone’s intention to create a situation where it’s not just a shelter, but rather does offer an array of services to our homeless neighbors to support them in their work and efforts to get housed and whatever else they might need,” said Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway
Rhodes-Conway has since introduced a resolution during the Feb. 2 common council meeting to allocate $400,000 of city funding towards construction efforts to make the new shelter permanent.
Since the outbreak of COVID-19, the homeless population in Madison has seemingly increased due to the economic fallout caused by the virus. Director of Services for Porchlight — a local non profit that seeks to provide assistance to the homeless — Kim Sutter affirmed this increase.
“From May through October, the number of men served at Warner Park rose from an average of 65 to 89 per night. The number fell slightly in November when more men were staying at the respite center but has risen again to an average of 95 per night so far in December,” Sutter said.
In an interview with The Wisconsin State Journal, Rhodes-Conway shared similar concerns regarding the impact of COVID-19 on homelessness.
“The pandemic obviously has had devastating economic impacts on our community. One of the impacts has been that we have folks that are moving from perhaps housing insecurity to homelessness,” Rhodes-Conway stated. “We need to be able to take care of everybody.”
During the past 30 years, churches in the Madison area have been the primary provider of overnight shelter to the homeless, with city government playing a limited role in providing assistance.
According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, Madison and Dane County’s homeless population is 1.5 times greater than the state average. The same source found in 2019 that, on a given night, 578 people would be homeless in Madison.