An under-construction homeless day shelter in downtown Madison came under scrutiny earlier this month after a funding mixup left the opening date in doubt.
But the center, named the Beacon, is set to open as planned on Oct. 16, and it will take more than money to keep it running 365 days a year. Catholic Charities, the operator of the center, is recruiting community members to fill the 30,000 hours of volunteer time needed each year.
The Beacon will provide services and resources to about 150 homeless individuals a day at 615 E. Washington Ave. in the former Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce building.
Those services include laundry, showers, a computer lab, free lunches and breakfast food, free healthcare screenings, mail services, help finding jobs and housing and case management provided by social services agencies.
There will be seven Catholic Charities staff members at the Beacon, meaning that some of the services like the laundry, showers and computer lab will be completely dependent on volunteers, said Tami Fleming, volunteer coordinator for the center.
“A staff person could step in and do it if they had to, but they’re really stretched pretty thin,” she said.
Individuals can volunteer to give out towels for the showers, wash laundry, help guests find resources or fill out job applications in the computer lab, play with kids, greet new guests or even just talk or play cards with them.
The Beacon is also looking for volunteers to perform repair and maintenance on the building, as well as help provide lunch. Several organizations have already committed to providing lunches on certain days of the week. Community Action Coalition, which takes advantage of Verona software company Epic Systems’ leftovers, has agreed to “pinch hit” on the other days, but volunteers are needed to transport and warm up the food.
Breakfast will be served continental style, with items like toast, fruit and donated day-old Panera Bread pastries, Fleming said.
All these services require a community effort. Fleming said that if each volunteer worked a four-hour shift each month, the Beacon would need about 200 volunteers.
Fleming has been recruiting for the last few months, reaching out to faith congregations, colleges and employers, and currently has about 100 volunteers.
Those wishing to volunteer need to fill out an online application, submit to a background check and complete two-hour orientation session. The center will continually accept volunteers and hold training sessions, Fleming said, because she knows volunteers’ hours will fluctuate with their vacation plans or kids' sport schedules.
And the Beacon is looking for a diverse volunteer pool. Almost 80 percent of homeless families in need of emergency shelter in Dane County are people of color, a 2013 report found, and a national study found that 11 percent of homeless adults are veterans. The Beacon is specifically recruiting veterans and people of color so that “everyone who comes inside for help feels welcome and knows they belong the minute they walk through our doors.”
The center is also looking for 15 to 20 Spanish or Hmong-speaking volunteers every week.
Staff positions at the Beacon include a center director, reception coordinator, guest services specialist, and child and family services specialist. The center is looking at bringing in three full-time AmeriCorps VISTA volunteers next year as well, Fleming said.
“Our goal is just to be the best we can be for the guest who comes and needs help,” Fleming said.