In an effort to address issues among the homeless population, Mayor Paul Soglin’s 2017 operating budget will invest further funds into a downtown-focused street team.

The program works by establishing relationships with homeless people who are living on the streets, Soglin said. Qualified individuals build trust with a homeless person by talking through their issues, and then work toward getting them into permanent housing.

Similar programs have had success in the past. Soglin said there was one case in which a member of a team took a homeless man every morning for breakfast for 14 months. Finally, after a rapport and trust was established, the homeless veteran agreed to permanent housing, Soglin said.

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After seeing success elsewhere, Soglin said it made sense to bring a similar program to Madison.

In the past, Soglin has introduced controversial proposals regarding Madison’s homeless population.

At a late September City Council meeting, he proposed an ordinance that would ban homeless people from laying on the sidewalks from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. in the central business district of Madison. The ordinance, many city council members argued, would not solve the underlying issue of homeless, but would just relocate it.

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While the ordinance ultimately failed, city council members did agree they need to start looking at other means of solving the homeless problem.

The current budget looks to invest $170,000 into the street team program. The city balanced the funds for it by increasing fees for patients who require ambulance transportation to the hospital, said Tiffany Kenney, executive director at the Business Improvement District.

Within the downtown area, the city is looking to fund more outreach workers, Kenney said.

“The city, as well as the BID, believes this program — among other things to address the issue of homelessness in the downtown area — is important,” Kenney said.

Soglin said he tried to get budget support for the project two years ago, but those efforts ultimately failed.

After the opening of the Rethke homeless housing complex, however, the city got approval to start funding street teams to work with prospective residents of that facility.

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Since then, Soglin said the program has placed about 50 homeless individuals into permanent housing situations.

“We want people out who understand and can talk through the [homeless people’s] challenges, particularly because there is often mental illness or substance abuse problems that need to be addressed,” Soglin said.

At the moment, the program is running on a temporary basis. With the support of the City Council, Soglin said he hopes to make it a permanent program when the budget is finalized next year.