Around 25 neighbors are organizing to stop or slow plans to expand the Salvation Army’s homeless shelter on Madison’s Near East Side, fearing that increased capacity at the shelter will bring crime and other bad behaviors with it.
At a meeting Wednesday at the Brink Lounge, which is less than a block from the Salvation Army, neighbors described incidents of “anti-social behavior,” including open drug dealing in the streets, overdoses, aggressive panhandling, screaming at night, fights, thefts and other bad behavior.
The residents said they want the city to find another location for the expansion or come up with some sort of security plan to address problems in the area.
“Why are we over-saturating a neighborhood?” Kim Novak, an area resident, asked the room of around 50 people. “There are other locations, there are other neighborhoods this could go to.”
The Salvation Army of Dane County operates two distinct homeless shelters in its building at 630 E. Washington Ave. The building was originally a Catholic school, and the Salvation Army has said it is not designed to adequately meet the needs of the homeless community.
Shelter volunteers told those gathered Wednesday that the shelter is always at capacity, and has to turn away many homeless people.
“We either continue to serve people in need using a building that was never meant for that or we can improve the building and our processes and serve people better,” said Kaitlyn Novotny, spokeswoman for the Salvation Army of Dane County, in an interview before the meeting.
The roughly $25 million redevelopment would include a new homeless shelter, transitional rooms, increased mental health services and income-based and non-subsidized housing. The facilities would be located on the Salvation Army’s current 1.34-acre site, plus adjacent property.
The Salvation Army is under contract to buy a used-car dealership at 648 E. Washington Ave., a building at 12 N. Blount St., a parking lot at 655 E. Mifflin St., and the QTI/U.S. Post Office building at 702 E. Washington Ave., but the QTI building would not be part of the redevelopment.
The proposed campus would include a five-story building with emergency shelter and transitional housing at the corner of East Washington Avenue and Blount Street, a one-story attached gymnasium/auditorium/chapel with a mezzanine-level walking track, outdoor playground and separate entry behind the main building in the center of the block, and a three-story apartment building with 40 to 45 units at the corner of North Blount and East Mifflin streets.
‘It’s the behavior’
Rick Macky, who lives near the shelter, said the problem isn’t with those who use the Salvation Army’s services, but with people who gather outside of the building.
“This is getting too dense,” Macky told the group. “It’s really not the people in (the shelter). It’s the behavior in the neighborhood.”
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Macky is one of around 12 neighbors who organized after a letter was sent around the Tenney-Lapham neighborhood by Richard Freihoefer, another resident in the neighborhood. After Wednesday’s meeting, around 13 people joined them.
“There’s only so much we can take in this neighborhood,” Freihoefer said.
Mike De Minter, who owns four rental properties in Madison, said he only sees problems at his two properties that are across the street from the shelter. He said his basement has gotten broken into, garbage is thrown into his alleyway, the smell of drugs surrounds his buildings and tenants have had cars broken into.
“I’m losing tenants,” De Minter said. “They don’t want to renew.”
Nataliya Knudson, who lives in the area, said she is afraid to work at night because she doesn’t feel comfortable walking home. She said she has heard screams in the middle of the night and once saw a man lying on the sidewalk.
While holding her 14-month-old daughter, Novak told the room that heroin overdoses happen on her block every month. Novak said she has seen drug deals happen in the middle of the day.
“We have heard these people say, ‘The police don’t care,’” Novak said. “I want to ask the city to keep our neighborhood safe.”
Another resident, Dorota Walkiewicz, said she sees syringes in the street and doesn’t feel safe enough to walk her dog.
Edward Kuharski, an architect who also lives in the area, said the “spillover” into the neighborhood happens because the current Salvation Army homeless shelter doesn’t have enough capacity.
He said the way to address bad behavior in the neighborhood is to expand the shelter so everyone has a place to stay. Instead of trying to prevent the Salvation Army from upping its capacity, Kuharski said neighbors should push the city to put some sort of security plan in place.
“We gotta work with these folks who are struggling,” Kuharski said.