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Madison vetting ‘at least three’ potential sites for permanent men’s homeless shelter

Madison vetting ‘at least three’ potential sites for permanent men’s homeless shelter

Mens Homeless Shelter 121620 07-12162020133525 (copy)

Currently, a homeless men's shelter is operating out of the city's Fleet Services Building on First Street. 

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A joint Madison and Dane County committee studying homelessness issues on Monday delayed setting criteria for city decisionmakers to consider as they seek another location for a permanent men’s homeless shelter.   

However, Community Development Director Jim O’Keefe said the city is evaluating potential locations that would meet the proposed characteristics, which include being located within 3.5 miles of The Beacon day resource center on East Washington Avenue.

“City staff are actively vetting at least three sites that fall within that criterion,” O’Keefe said.  

The latest search follows the City Council failing to approve the purchase of a vacant big-box retail building on Zeier Road, near East Towne Mall, for a shelter. Last October, the city thought it would secure a former child care center at 4111 East Towne Blvd. for a shelter, but had to divert after the property’s seller backed out of the deal.

Ultimately, the City-County Homeless Issues Committee voted to postpone a decision on proposed criteria until its Sept. 20 meeting. The criteria — as outlined in a resolution proposed by Council President Syed Abbas, Ald. Sheri Carter and Ald. Gary Halverson — would guide what services committee members want the shelter located near and consider future possibilities. 

“The whole purpose of this selection criteria is from a policy standpoint, giving a direction and opening a much broader scope of creating a shelter,” said Abbas, who represents District 12.  

The proposed criteria include that the site should be: 

  • Located within a few blocks of seven-days-a-week bus service with a preference for close proximity to BRT routes
  • Zoned for commercial or mixed use and not next to single-family homes
  • Located more than 0.5 miles from any schools or daycare centers 
  • Not located in a Census tract identified as a location of concentrated poverty 
  • Located within 3.5 miles of The  Beacon at 615 E. Washington Ave.
  • An active real estate listing that is vacant or will be soon

Also, under the criteria, the site should include: 

  • Either an existing building or a lot large enough for new construction 
  • Space for future expansion 

[Madison City Council votes 11-9 to adopt zoning changes to add housing]

O’Keefe said the absence of the criteria wouldn't stop city staff from pursuing alternative locations for the much-needed facility. He said the proposed criteria largely reflect what city staff have been using in their search except for the distance between a potential site and The Beacon. 

“This resolution is in large part just memorializing those same criteria with one not insignificant addition,” O’Keefe said. 

The proximity from a potential site to downtown and its services was a concern for Halverson, whose District 17 included one of the previously considered sites, during discussion of the Zeier Road property in May. 

One of the potential sites is located along Pennsylvania Avenue and owned by Hooper Corp., which the city began analyzing at Abbas’ request. O’Keefe declined to name the other sites, citing the confidentiality of real estate negotiations.   

While some committee members argued the resolution wasn’t needed because a site search is underway, Dane County Supervisor Elena Haasl and Madison Ald. Juliana Bennett, who represent campus-area districts, opposed the criteria. Particularly, they took issue with the requirement of not being located next to single-family homes.

Haasl said adding more restrictions would make a site search more difficult, and Bennett worried that the criteria will prevent city staff from considering possible locations.

“It would be a shame if we turned down another good location like Zeier Road,” Bennett said.  

Abbas said the criteria are flexible, with O’Keefe noting that a site falling shy of meeting all the criteria likely wouldn’t prevent a location from being considered.  

“I think there’s plenty of opportunity within the constraints of this resolution,” O’Keefe said. 

Share your opinion on this topic by sending a letter to the editor to tctvoice@madison.com. Include your full name, hometown and phone number. Your name and town will be published. The phone number is for verification purposes only. Please keep your letter to 250 words or less.

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