Two long-established nonprofit agencies in Madison are working on major development or expansion plans that would put two homeless shelters in the east-side Worthington Park neighborhood, raising concerns among neighborhood activists.
The Salvation Army of Dane County is considering moving its shelter services for women and children at 630 E. Washington Ave. — where the agency frequently is forced to turn away homeless families because there is no more room — to an expanded facility at its 3030 Darbo Drive location, Maj. Loren Carter told me Wednesday. The agency also plans to construct single-room-occupancy transition housing for women at the Darbo Drive site, he said.
“We are looking to build a single campus; that’s a priority at this point,” Carter said, adding that a final decision by the Salvation Army board on whether that proposal is the way to go could be several months away.
Meanwhile, Youth Services of Southern Wisconsin is working with developer Executive Management Inc. (EMI) of Madison to redevelop the site of a shuttered McDonald’s restaurant at 3051 E. Washington Ave., Youth Services executive director Casey Behrend told me. The development company has an agreement to purchase with McDonald’s corporation, Behrend said.
Envisioned there is an 18,000-square-foot facility that would include an eight-bed shelter for homeless and runaway youths ages 13-17. The lack of shelter space for youth — there are now only a handful of short-term foster homes in southern Wisconsin — has attracted the attention of both private groups and state legislators.
In large part, that’s because children under 18 are ineligible for existing shelters without their parents because they are minors. The Youth Services facility also would include programming space and offices for the agency, now located at 1955 Atwood Ave.
“We were looking at a site that is relatively central, affordable for us, on a major thoroughfare and a bus line. This site generally meets the criteria,” Behrend said. He hopes that the land sale can be completed and a fundraising campaign launched in the next three months.
News of the plans by the two agencies, which has trickled out over the past few months, concerns Alfonso Flores V, president of the Worthington Park Neighborhood Association.
“I do see a problem bringing at-risk youth in to such close proximity to such a large scale shelter for adults,” Flores said, noting that some homeless people may have psychological or behavior issues. The two properties are only a couple blocks from one another.
Flores said he is also concerned about bringing such shelter facilities into the neighborhood, which has seen a recent resurgence in the gang and criminal activity residents long worked with police to diminish.
“These things are happening without introducing more at-risk youth or homeless people to the neighborhood; we’re trying to break that trend,” Flores said.
The proposals by service providers are coming on the heels of a year of intense civic debate about how to handle homelessness, both for daytime shelters and the Occupy Madison tent city that has sprung up in several sites.
The Occupy Madison group is trying to buy a building at 2132 Fordem Ave. for conversion into a self-run homeless shelter and service center. A community meeting to air that plan, which has also raised concerns with neighbors, is being planned for Jan. 12, with time and location to be determined, Ald. Satya Rhodes-Conway told me Wednesday.
For the Salvation Army, its inability to provide emergency shelter to all women and children who need it has been a growing concern for several years. And while the plan for transitional housing on Darbo Drive reflects a preference for housing over shelter increasingly voiced by city, county and private funders, the need for emergency services will not soon disappear, Carter said.
“We’re not going to give that up. We’ll continue that work somewhere, someway, somehow,” he said.
But the economic benefits of selling the current site — located on a strip where one multimillion-dollar redevelopment project is underway and several others are in the offing — are inescapable.
“Anybody with any head for business can see that as a clear possibility,” Carter said, adding that he reckons the city, too, would like to see the property, redeveloped as high-rise condominiums, back on the tax rolls.
“It may be a point of leverage with the city,” he said.
Neither Salvation Army nor Youth Services has filed a development proposal with the city yet. Without that, zoning administration Matt Tucker told me, he can’t say what special approvals might be needed to clear the way for the developments. Both properties currently are zoned for commercial use.
Flores said that he is disappointed that neither service agency had yet scheduled a meeting with Worthington Park residents, but admits that the neighborhood association has been in a period of flux.
The group, in fact, inadvertently let its incorporation as a nonprofit organization lapse in mid-2011 and has struggled to attract members to its board of directors. Flores himself moved to Pennsylvania last summer, but said meetings of the neighborhood association board continued, once with the assistance of a Skype connection.
Flores told me the board now has a full slate of members and that he plans to soon complete the paperwork to restore the group’s status. He is also moving back to Madison this month.
Flores was happy to hear of Ald. Marsha Rummel’s plans to call a Jan. 16 meeting to discuss the homeless services plans and said they will also be addressed immediately following a 5:30-6:30 discussion of plans to improve the neighborhood park at a Jan. 23 meeting of the neighborhood association at the Hawthorne Branch Library, 2707 E. Washington Ave.
But what is really needed in a neighborhood like Worthington Park is a full study of the impact of the proposals on residents and businesses in the area, Flores said.
“We need to have the community involved in the early stages of these developments; ultimately, it will result in a better proposal,” he said.