The Beacon

An amendment added to the 2018 Dane County budget Wednesday would provide $40,500 in funding to purchase bus passes for users of The Beacon, a homeless day resource center in Madison. Shown above is the front desk of the center off on East Washington Avenue.

AMBER ARNOLD, STATE JOURNAL

Users of The Beacon, a day resource center for the homeless, could get help with transportation next year under an amendment to the 2018 Dane County operating budget.

The county’s Health and Human Needs Committee added $40,500 Wednesday to next year’s proposed budget that would go to purchasing bus passes for clients of the homeless center in Madison. It would address a transportation issue for some, which can be a key barrier toward finding a stable living environment, said Sup. Heidi Wegleitner, 2nd District.

“It’s not just about getting to The Beacon. It’s being able to get to other appointments that you have, to be able to live your life,” she said.

If included in the finalized budget, the bus pass funds would be on top of the $172,000 Dane County Executive Joe Parisi included in his 2018 budget to run the center, making the county the largest contributor.

Catholic Charities, which operates the center at 615 E. Washington Ave., and United Way of Dane County each intend to contribute $172,000 next year.

A Madison committee recently upped the city’s proposed share next year to $150,000 compared to the $110,000 Mayor Paul Soglin included in his 2018 budget.

Josh Wescott, Parisi’s chief of staff, said Parisi hasn’t taken a position on the bus pass amendment as he’ll have to look at all amendments requiring money and how they fit into a state-imposed levy limit. The executive budget left about $508,000 available before the cap is reached.

Wescott said the main priority is to provide the center operational funds.

The Beacon provides space for homeless individuals and families to meet with service providers, use showers, and access a laundry service and mail. The center, which opened last month, will be open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. 365 days a year.

“To be able to provide bus transportation for these folks to get connected to other services, either to The Beacon or outside The Beacon, boy, that’s going to be a tremendous help,” Jackson Fonder, CEO and president of Catholic Charities, said about the amendment.

Wegleitner, who sponsored the amendment, initially sought $73,000 for bus passes. But after discussions Wednesday, the committee reduced the amount to give the idea a better chance of surviving the remainder of the budgetary process, she said.

“I think the committee really agrees that this is an important priority,” Wegleitner said.

She said the amendment directs the City-County Homeless Issues Committee to come up with a plan for what type of bus passes would be purchased and how they would be given out.

The Beacon is located on East Washington Avenue, a major thoroughfare for public transit, but Wegleitner noted the passes could also help people get to job interviews, housing tours and doctor appointments.

The County Board is set to make a final determination on the 2018 budget at its Nov. 20 meeting.

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Logan Wroge has been a general assignment reporter for the Wisconsin State Journal since 2015.