More controversy is flaring over Dane County staff’s selection of a site miles from downtown for a long-planned day shelter for homeless people.
Dane County Sup. Heidi Wegleitner is challenging her colleagues to put their commitment to equity into practice and wait to hear what homeless people have to say about the location before advancing a proposal to buy a day services center operated by Porchlight, Inc.
After sporadic efforts to site a day shelter for the homeless over the past two years, Dane County Executive Joe Parisi announced April 3 the county had an accepted offer to buy the building at 1409 Martin St. in the town of Madison from Porchlight for $330,000. The site has been used by Porchlight for its Hospitality House day program since 2004. The existing center will require extensive renovation to prepare it to serve 80 people, county officials have said.
Selection of the Martin Street facility http://host.madison.com/ct/news/local/writers/pat_schneider/dane-county-s-selection-of-site-for-homeless-day-shelter/article_fbeab106-bb5c-11e3-aa34-001a4bcf887a.html" target="_blank">stirred controversy from the start, prompting the immediate resignation of the chairman of the county’s Homeless Issues Committee and criticism from service providers and homeless services advocates.
Wegleitner, who was instrumental in getting $600,000 budgeted for the facility, is asking homeless services and affordable housing advocates to email members of the county Health and Human Needs Committee and ask them not to take up a resolution to buy the Porchlight facility until the Homeless Issues Committee has had the opportunity to consider it.
“Some supervisors might need some education in what ‘effective and active engagement of the communities that are impacted’ actually means,” Wegleitner said, quoting from the Dane County Equity Initiative in her email.
The equity initiative, to be presented to the County Board for approval Thursday, commits officials to solicit discussion of and consider the effects of their actions on racial minorities in order to try to reduce racial inequities and their root causes. The Health and Human Needs Committee recommended approval of the policy at its last meeting.
Wegleitner told advocates she was “pretty shocked” that the resolution to buy the day shelter property was scheduled for another committee before the Homeless Issues Committee was able to take it up.
She said she asked the acting chairman of Health and Human Needs, Sup. Jeremy Levin, to take it off the agenda, but he had not done so yet.
Levin did not immediately return a phone call asking for comment on Monday.
Wegleitner said there are many problems with the Martin Street proposal.
“The bottom line is that it is too far from downtown,” she told services advocates. Especially since no plan – or funding – for helping homeless people get from downtown to the shelter some 2.5 miles away has been developed.
“Make no mistake, we need a day center this winter, but Hospitality House is the wrong site for a permanent location,” she wrote. A downtown facility will be cheaper to operate because there will be no transportation costs. And, Wegleitner said, “homeless people currently accessing downtown services and shelters and public buildings will actually go there and get the resources they need.”
Stopping purchase of the Martin Street facility looks like a long shot at this point. Twenty-two of the county board’s 37 members have signed on as co-sponsors of the resolution to buy the property.
Parisi has set a Nov. 1 deadline for opening the facility.