It’s February in Madison, which means another year has come and gone without a comprehensive city solution to the chronic issue of homelessness downtown. Of course, that’s an unfairly broad task with many nuanced and complex aspects, but it is tremendously frustrating to read columns like The Badger Herald Editorial Board’s article from November 2014, lamenting how the city and county have once again failed to act on homelessness.
Herald Editorial Board: For second consecutive year, city fails to provide for homelessThose who braved the elements at the Nebraska football game this weekend were likely happy to return to a warm Read…
That column was published two years ago, but the crux of the argument stands: we as a community are not doing enough to combat chronic homelessness.
During last year’s mayoral race, Dane County purchased a location on East Washington Avenue for a day center, but actions to combat homelessness have been fractured and disorganized. The county has been trying to open a day shelter since 2011. They recently announced one would not be open by the end of 2016. Better luck next year.
Despite another year of failing to create a permanent day shelter in an area that could actually benefit the homeless community, the opening of publicly owned housing units near the airport as shelter for homeless families is a great step in the right direction. These units were previously slated for demolition and will be demolished in the near-future. But until the city creates a plan for the area, the old units will serve as a safety net for some of Madison’s homeless families. Additionally, the city has done a commendable job using public funds and tax credits to secure shelter for homeless veterans on the east side.
Broader solutions that have materialized generally fall into two camps: private development and city administrative tweaks.
Private development and support are continually some of the few promising areas for combating chronic homelessness in Madison. Organizations like the Salvation Army are often the first, last and only safety net between the homeless population having something or nothing at all.
The Salvation Army has plans to expand its current location on East Washington Avenue to accommodate more individuals and families seeking assistance. But the city remains the primary obstacle to progress.
Brad Zeman, a board member of the Salvation Army, told the Isthmus, “We wanted to break ground this fall , but with the delay and the change of direction from the city, that hasn’t happened.”
Business as usual for Madison.
Despite not passing sweeping solutions for homelessness in Madison, the Common Council did act on a variety of ordinances that directly affected homeless individuals.
In addition to ordinances protecting the homeless from some forms of discrimination and the Common Council preventing the passage of other ordinances that would make life even more difficult for homeless individuals, the city recently implemented homeless courts to alleviate the large legal burdens. Fellow Editorial Board member Luke Schaetzel wrote a great column on homeless courts, but the lack of funding and limited scope will probably sink a promising program.
Budgeting is simply writing out a statement of priorities. Both the City of Madison and Dane County Board of Supervisors have shown providing solutions for homelessness is not one of their priorities. I realize money is not the only limiting factor in this situation. There are zoning issues, not-in-my-back-yard residents and three seasons where homelessness does not feel like an important, pressing issue. But with poverty in Wisconsin at a 30-year high, these are issues that can and should be overcome.
We as a city and as a community are better than this. I’m calling on Mayor Paul Soglin and the Common Council to work with the Dane County Board of Supervisors to finally get this damn day shelter done so someone doesn’t have to write this same column next year.
Adam Johnson ([email protected]) is a master’s candidate at the La Follette School of Public Affairs.