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Madison City Council approves sheltering homeless in Far East Side hotel

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Seeking to shelter those camping in Reindahl Park and living elsewhere outside before the onset of winter, the Madison City Council approved Tuesday renting up to 35 rooms at a Far East Side hotel for those experiencing homelessness.

The city will rent rooms at Madison Plaza Hotel and contract with Focus Counseling to provide on-site supportive services and arrange for security and meals for those staying in the hotel. The city authorized up to $1.5 million in federal COVID-19 dollars to pay for the rooms and services through the end of June.

The proposal passed without discussion as part of the council’s consent agenda Tuesday, which was a comparatively swift meeting following three lengthy days of budget deliberations last week.

Since September, Dane County has been renting 100 rooms in the Madison Plaza Hotel, 3841 E. Washington Ave., for homeless adults considered at high risk for severe illness from COVID-19 and has been working with Focus Counseling. The city will rent the remaining 35 usable rooms in the hotel.

The hotel owner, Chilewood LLC, owes approximately $1.7 million in back taxes and unpaid room taxes, and plans are now on hold to convert the property into low-cost housing.

In mid-October, the city awarded $1.85 million to Gorman and Co. and Lutheran Social Services for a $23.4 million proposal to convert the Madison Plaza Hotel into 105 housing units — all for those with lower incomes.

A representative for Gorman has said the developer has now backed off those plans given the uncertainty of how long the temporary hotel shelter will last, and whether the developer could secure federal housing tax credits for the project or would need to rely on back-up plans of upgrading the property and using it as a commercial hotel.

Gorman has since declined the city’s funding, and no longer has an agreement to purchase the property.

The hotel plan is the second component of the city’s approach to providing shelter options for the approximately 70 people living in tents, cars and RVs in a now-illegal encampment in Reindahl Park.

A sanctioned campground with 30 tiny shelters on the Southeast Side is nearly finished. The city-owned property at 3202 Dairy Drive includes the prefabricated, climate-controlled shelters and a small building remodeled into office space and six restrooms with showers.

The 64-square-foot shelters, which are equipped with locking doors, operable windows, fold-up beds, shelving, electricity, heaters, air conditioners and refrigerators, but the operators say they will need additional insulation.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to clarify that, while the operators of the encampment say the units need more insulation, the extra insulation isn't required before the units can be inhabited.


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