Plans to establish storage lockers for homeless individuals across Madison are moving forward gradually, with the Dane County Board slated to approve a resolution for the program this week and a parallel city resolution working through committees.
The joint effort between Madison, Dane County and Friends of the State Street Family aims to provide 100 storage lockers in small clusters throughout the downtown and city, contracting with homeless individuals to use the lockers on a six-month basis to store their belongings.
“A lot of people want a place that’s safe and secure to store the things that are important to them,” said Friends of the State Street Family operations director Tami Fleming. “When everything you own is on your back, that’s pretty devastating.”
Friends of the State Street Family would run the program, working with other agencies to host the lockers and oversee different banks of them for monitoring and support. That agency worker would also be able to build a relationship with homeless people using the lockers, Fleming said, potentially connecting them with other services to get them into housing.
“They’re all steps toward getting into that housing first program,” Fleming said. “In a very gentle way, people who have been outside for a long time can start to form healthy relationships and start to form trust with agency workers.”
The resolution going before the Dane County Board on Thursday would designate space for at least 20 lockers at the county’s downtown parking ramp or other county-owned property downtown. It would also allocate up to $25,000 in the capital budget for the program.
The city resolution, if approved, would contribute up to $10,000 for the lockers and resolves that the city will work with the county to designate space and place storage lockers downtown.
District 2 Ald. Ledell Zellers, who is the lead sponsor on the city resolution, said the city is looking at several locations, like parking ramps and non-profits.
“There’s really a lot of interest by the helping community, as I would call them, as well as businesses and landlords downtown,” Zellers said.
A previous effort to offer storage behind the Madison Municipal Building on East Wilson Street ended mid-summer following concerns about health and illegal activity at the site.
Supporters of the new locker system say that facility — which consisted of two fenced-in, unsupervised storage areas — was not set up to succeed.
“That was just unacceptable for a number of reasons,” said District 2 Supervisor Heidi Wegleitner, who is sponsoring the county resolution. “It didn’t really work for the folks who had their storage there and it was kind of, I think, chaotic.”
This program will have people overseeing the lockers and they will be for individual use, with a contract signed between the user and Friends of the State Street Family, which will also have a key.
A draft agreement includes not sleeping on the host property, locking the locker, helping keep the area clean, not storing perishable food in the locker, not storing illegal substances in the locker and respecting the people and property at the site. Participation also involves participating in a housing first assessment and interview with a social worker, Fleming said.
“There will just be a lot more oversight and understanding about what expectations are,” Wegleitner said.
Once a list of sites has been provided, Friends of the State Street Family plans to work with hackerspace Sector67 to outfit the lockers with legs and hoods to keep them more protected from the elements. Sector67 also plans to design “urban camouflage” for the lockers to make them fit in with their surroundings.
If all is approved, the plan is to launch the program in March.