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Salvation Army may lease former nursing facility to shelter homeless families
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Salvation Army may lease former nursing facility to shelter homeless families

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Karmenta Center

The city and Salvation Army are exploring the use of the former Karmenta Center skilled nursing facility, 4502 Milwaukee St., as a "mission house" for families experiencing homelessness.

Madison and the Salvation Army of Dane County are considering using a large, vacant, former skilled nursing facility on the East Side for a temporary “mission house” for families experiencing homelessness.

Although no decisions have been made, the Salvation Army is exploring a lease of the 36,192-square-foot former Karmenta Center, set on 3.3 acres at 4502 Milwaukee St. The X-shaped building, once the third-largest of Dane County’s 18 nursing homes but closed in the spring of 2019, offers about 55 separate rooms, laundry facilities, kitchen, offices, dining room, conference space, staff lounge, showers and restrooms.

Currently, the Salvation Army is using federal coronavirus relief money distributed by the county to shelter about 50 homeless families in hotels. But that funding may not be available after the end of the year, and the nonprofit is looking to relocate the families from the hotels to other shelter with a different funding source.

The former Karmenta Center is not seen as a permanent family shelter solution. The Salvation Army has city approvals for a redevelopment at its existing location on the 600 block of East Washington Avenue and adjacent property for a five-story building with emergency shelter and transitional housing; a one-story attached gymnasium/auditorium/chapel with outdoor playground and separate entry; and an apartment building.

The city’s exact involvement in the temporary site, if it materializes, is unclear.

“We’re exploring options,” city community services director Jim O’Keefe said.

The Salvation Army declined comment.

In late October, the City Council approved $460,000 for the Salvation Army for shelter for homeless families tied to the Karmenta site. Council members have also proposed zoning updates that would allow the Karmenta Center property to be used for a mission house provided the partner/operator receives funding from the city and enters into a service contract with the city. A mission house is defined as a facility operated by a religious institution or nonprofit organization that provides lodging but may also offer meals, worship services and other support services.

“Nothing is concrete at this point, but the ordinance change would allow ‘mission house’ in a number of zoning districts as a permitted use if it is supported by the city,” said Ald. Grant Foster, 15th District, who represents the site. “The other ordinance change would update the zoning of that property to (Commercial Corridor Transitional District), which is consistent with the recommendations in the comprehensive plan.”

Help for landlords during the coronavirus crisis is coming to an end but so many people fear they will now struggle to pay rent.

A Planning Division staff report says the existing facility is “particularly well-suited to be converted to this use as minimal changes would be required in order for the existing building to be used for this purpose.” Also, if the mission house were not to move forward on this property, or were to be a short-term use of the existing building, the site would be appropriately zoned for other uses of the existing building or redevelopment, it says.

The Plan Commission is scheduled to consider the ordinances on Monday with council consideration on Nov. 17.

In April, Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway and Foster proposed the city lease the facility from Watson Smith LLC for $900,000 for two years as a possible temporary shelter in response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic with an option to then buy the property for future redevelopment.

The city, however, pulled back because shelter related to the pandemic was secured at other locations.


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