Dane County officials are pursuing a series of initiatives to help meet the needs of the large homeless population in the city of Madison, but in-depth plans for a new daytime shelter will likely not reach fruition until the next winter season falls.
According to Dane County Board of Supervisors Chair John Hendrick, District 6, a temporary warming shelter opened in November to provide shelter from the cold but is set to close in March. A hospitality house and several nighttime shelters around the city are also available for the homeless community.
However, no daytime shelter is currently in operation. Both the hospitality house and the shelters throughout Madison have seen issues with people being turned away and not having enough space, he said.
The proposed day center will cost about $600,000 to build, and the location has not yet been determined, according to a Dane County Board of Supervisors statement.
Ideally, the board wants the building to be close to downtown and accessible by bus, so people can easily get to and from the shelter, Dane County Board Supervisor Heidi Wegleitner, District 2, said. The board hopes to have the daytime shelter open by Nov. 1.
The daytime shelter will provide basic facilities — such as showers, laundry rooms, restrooms, storage space and lockers —that the current temporary warming shelters cannot, Hendrick said. The permanent building will be accessible year-round and will also provide the opportunity to apply for jobs and housing by providing access to computers and phones, as well as a mail address, he said.
However, Wegleitner said she hopes the daytime shelter will be able to provide more services along with these basic amenities.
She said she hopes the proposed shelter will be a place for the homeless to receive services, acquire mutual support to help them with their daily lives and connect to employment, housing, public benefits and legal services. At the very minimum, she said, it will be a place for people to stay warm.
“I’m hoping for a comprehensive resource center that is also a welcoming and empowering place for folks that often feel hopeless and disempowered,” Wegleitner said.
The board also hopes to follow the model set by the temporary warming shelter by implementing full time volunteers and fostering a welcoming atmosphere throughout, Wegleitner said.
She said the experience has been transformative for not only those using the shelter, but also for the community and policymakers, seeing a different way to provide services and support for people in need. Consequently, she said, advocating for full funding of this project is critical because people need permanent housing, a safe place to stay warm and to not be victimized for sleeping on the streets.
“Even in the middle of winter there are still people that can’t get into shelters,” Wegleitner said. “We need to do better for them, not only through affordable housing, but also through humane policies to take care of their basic needs.”
The board will begin plans for the daytime shelter at their meeting Feb. 7 at 7 p.m.