The City of Madison and Dane County announced Tuesday a new effort to protect the homeless during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway said in a press release Tuesday the initial phases of the efforts focused on tackling the logistical challenges.

The logistics included identifying and locating higher risk homeless people and acquiring sufficient hotel space for them, as well as moving people into the hotels. Additionally, the initial phases concentrated on organizing transportation and meal services.

Now the staff is focusing on strengthening support systems for residents, the press release said. Local service provider Focus Counseling’s presence has already had an effect and promises to play a vital part in this aspect of the effort, Rhodes-Conway said.

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The current effort consists of four main elements, according to Rhodes-Conway. 

The first element is relocating families from the Salvation Army’s Women and Family shelter to allow for additional space for single women.

The press release said the Salvation Army moved all 22 families staying at the E. Washington Avenue shelter. Ten other families that were turned away from shelter due to a lack of space were moved into two area hotels. According to the release, since then the numbers have increased to around 45 families, with 145 people.

Furthermore, through a contract with Dane County, a local restaurant group will provide meals, the press release said.

Rhodes-Conway said in the release the next part of the plan will focus on protecting high risk persons.

Around 165 people — mostly single adults and a few couples — who are in a higher risk category for COVID-19 have been placed into rooms in three other hotels secured by Dane County, the press release said.

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The release said these hotel guests receive daily meal service from local restaurant groups under a contract as well. Dane County has acquired the services of local support service provider, Focus Counseling. Focus Counseling will provide on-site support services to the hotel guests.

The third element, according to the press release, is isolating symptomatic persons. Dane County secured separate housing accommodations for homeless people who may have some symptoms of illness.

This hotel is sometimes described as a COVID-19 “medical respite shelter”, the press release said. The purpose of it is to offer better accommodations for those feeling ill, but have not been diagnosed with COVID-19. The “medical respite shelter” intends to reduce the risk these people may pose to others.

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The final element of the plan is starting up a new men’s shelter, according to the release. Porchlight Inc., the men’s shelter operator, began operating on Monday, March 30 from the Warner Park Community Center. The shelter operates from 5:00 p.m. to 8:00 a.m. Porchlight’s three downtown shelter locations are closed, however the daytime shelter, the Beacon, remains open.

The press release said Madison Metro will supply bus services from the Beacon to Warner Park in the evening and back to the Beacon in the morning. The Warner Park shelter also provides dinner and breakfast meals, while lunches are provided at the Beacon.

According to the release, the shelter has served between 70 and 80 men per night in the first few weeks, but it is prepared to take 135.

Other efforts are also in progress to strengthen staffing, including health monitoring services at the medical respite shelter, the release said. While the plans are proceeding, they have been slowed by the shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE).

Rhodes-Conway said they have now obtained some of the necessary PPE, and are collaborating with Public Health to secure nursing staff, but this effort remains a work in progress.

“The work to provide safe places for everyone to sleep is a team effort,” Rhodes-Conway said in the press release. “Much progress has been made, but we all know there is more to be done.”