Madison may use a hotel in addition to an encampment the city is building on the Southeast Side to shelter some of the homeless people now staying at a large, unsafe camp at Reindahl Park near East Towne.
Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway and Ald. Yannette Figueroa Cole on Tuesday proposed having the city rent 35 rooms at the Madison Plaza Hotel, 3841 E. Washington Ave., and contract with Focus Counseling of Madison to secure the hotel rooms, provide supportive services and arrange for meals and security.
The proposal mirrors what Dane County has been doing at the same hotel since September.
The county has been renting 100 rooms for homeless adults who are considered at high risk for severe illness if they contract COVID-19. It has also been using Focus Counseling to provide a variety of services and 24/7 staffing on site, said Casey Becker, division administrator in the county’s Housing Access and Affordability Division.
The city’s rental of hotel rooms and contract for services could run through June and would cost approximately $215,000 per month, which would be paid for with federal coronavirus relief money.
The hotel rooms would be the second piece of the city’s plan to close down the sprawling, now illegal campground at Reindahl Park, where roughly 70 people are staying in tents, RVs and vehicles. The city hopes to relocate people from Reindahl to more humane settings and close the encampment by the onset of winter.
One of those settings will be the city’s first sanctioned shelter encampment on a 1.8-acre, city-owned site at 3202 Dairy Drive on the Southeast Side.
The encampment will feature a central building with office space, showers and restroom facilities. Thirty 8-by-8-foot prefabricated shelters will have locking doors, operable windows, fold-up beds, shelving, electricity, heaters and air conditioners, refrigerators and safety features including an emergency exit, fire extinguishers and smoke alarms. A 6-foot chain-link fence with vinyl privacy slats encircles the site.
The site will also have streetlights, picnic tables and grills, a bike rack and a spot for refuse collection and pickup. Those living at the site who have vehicles will be expected to park on the street, but the city will not allow car camping on the street or tent camping in the vicinity.
The city recently chose Madison Area Care for the Homeless (MACH) OneHealth and Kabba Recovery Services as operators for the encampment to provide on-site services including support for housing searches, mental health wellness and addiction recovery.
The operators will provide on-site staffing during the day and evening with a 24/7 phone line, with rules for campground users, guests and other details to be addressed in a plan developed by the city and the management partner.
The city estimates the camp will cost roughly $900,000 in initial costs and $75,000 monthly for operations.
While another city-sanctioned campground has been discussed, the hotel option is being pursued instead given “the lack of another suitable location for a second such arrangement, and the urgency raised by the change of seasons,” according to the proposal.
But, combined, the encampment, hotel rooms and emergency shelters should be enough to accommodate everyone now staying at Reindahl Park, planners say.
The proposal to rent hotel space will be considered by the city’s Finance Committee on Friday with a decision by the City Council on Nov. 16.
In the long term, authorities hope to use the Madison Plaza for permanent housing. The city recently awarded $1.85 million from its Affordable Housing Fund to Gorman & Co. for a $23.4 million proposal to convert the hotel into housing with all 105 of the units to be created for those with lower incomes.