Thousands grappling with the bitter cold and effects of a struggling economy will find shelter following Wednesday’s opening of a temporary local day shelter intended to bring vagrants inside during the winter months.
The approved temporary day shelter will be at the former Don Miller Properties located on East Washington Avenue and will provide relief from the cold and resources to Madison’s homeless population for the duration of the winter.
“The shelter is in preparation for a winter,” Ald. Scott Resnick, District 8, said. “We would be in a very difficult situation if we didn’t pass it. Our other options were to bus the homeless out to outskirt libraries. This is much more central.”
Resnick said the shelter is a lease agreement between the city and Porchlight Inc., a local housing charity.
He said the city purchased the Don Miller lot, which will eventually be sold for development. During the winter, however, it is vacant. Porchlight has promised to provide staff and resources in exchange for use of the space.
Ald. Bridget Maniaci, District 2, said the push for this shelter was prompted in part by the large number of homeless people in Madison and the consequent overwhelming demand for shelters.
According to the Porchlight web site, the city reached its highest level of homelessness since 2000 in 2008, and that number has since risen.
Maniaci added the shelter was also prompted by the gaping hole in the shelter currently available for Madison’s homeless.
There are no places in the city for the homeless to go during the day, she said.
“The Capitol has closed down its basement, a frequent winter spot for the homeless to come off the street,” Maniaci said. “The other option for the homeless is the downtown Central Library, which just closed and reopened with a much smaller interim branch.”
Maniaci said she has been told the shelter will be able to serve between 75 and 100 people each day.
The shelter will also provide crucial aid to the city’s homeless by offering resources in addition to shelter, Maniaci said.
“They will have other services,” Maniaci said. “Resource groups will be coming to provide outreach. They’ll be helping folks get clothing and provide other support resources. The site will also serve as a resource center.”
The development comes at a key time, as the need for housing and shelter becomes more pressing as temperatures drop.
“[Homelessness] has always been a quantifiable problem in the city,” Resnick said. “We have a welcoming community that provides many resources through the University of Wisconsin and the city and faith-based groups. The consequence is that Madison is still in Wisconsin. Providing shelter in the winter is a problem we face every year.”
The current economic downturn has also contributed to the dire need for round-the-clock shelter.
Maniaci told The Badger Herald in a late October interview that her constituents have made her increasingly aware of the alarmingly high number of foreclosures and their contribution to homelessness.