An often skeptical group of neighbors heard details Tuesday on the Salvation Army’s plans to demolish its current homeless shelter on the Near East Side and replace it on the same site with a modernized facility that adds a housing component.
Several of the audience members focused their comments less on the proposal and more on what they described as a frustrating history of the organization not responding adequately to shelter-related problems that spill into the neighborhood.
“The Salvation Army provides a wonderful service to the community, but you’re not good neighbors,” said Bob Klebba, one of about 60 people at the neighborhood meeting, held at the Downtown campus of Madison Area Technical College.
He and others said the people causing the problems often aren’t the ones staying at the shelter, but rather their friends and acquaintances and “tag-alongs.”
The Salvation Army of Dane County provides emergency and temporary shelter for homeless families and single women at its site at 630 E. Washington Ave., the former St. Patrick’s Catholic School. It is proposing to raze the inefficient, resource-draining building and replace it with a five-story structure that would update the shelter facilities and add a range of affordable and market-rate housing.
There would be 70 units of housing of varying sizes, including some three-story townhouse units, said Kevin McDonell of Commonweath Cos., a Fond du Lac-based firm that would develop the site in partnership with the Salvation Army and manage the apartments.
The facility would be five floors as it fronts East Washington Avenue and three stories toward the back, where the block becomes more residential, he said. There would be 81 parking stalls.
The intent is to continue providing all of the current shelter services at the new facility, plus offer homeless people a way to reenter the private housing market. McDonell said clients working with Salvation Army case managers would be given a high priority for the new housing.
When one audience member asked how many of the Salvation Army’s current clients would actually be able to afford the rents, Melissa Sorensen, the organization’s director of social services, answered, “a lot.”
“They have income, they just don’t have someone willing to give them a chance,” she said.
In a best-case scenario, the Salvation Army would demolish its current building next summer and open the new structure a year later, said Brad Zeman, chairman of the Salvation Army’s advisory board. By doing the redevelopment in phases, the organization would continue to offer shelter beds and services throughout the project at the site, he said.
To help finance the redevelopment, the Salvation Army will seek city financial support and federal tax credits through the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority, Zeman said. He estimated the construction costs at $13.4 million.
Tuesday’s meeting was called by Ald. Ledell Zellers, 2nd District, who represents the Tenney- Lapham Neighborhood where the shelter is located. Several of the more than 20 audience members who spoke gave Salvation Army representatives an earful.
“You haven’t addressed the problems the neighborhood has had over the last 20 years,” said William McGrath.
A neighbor named Steve, who declined to provide his last name, said the Salvation Army is pushing the costs related to its services into the surrounding neighborhood due to the need for 911 calls. People connected to the shelter clients are “fighting and yelling and doing all kinds of things,” he said.
“I’m sorry, the neighborhood is not going to bear the cost of your enterprise anymore,” he said. “We have had it. Move it to Darbo Drive or somewhere far away.”
The Salvation Army operates a community center at 3030 Darbo Drive.
In 2013, it proposed moving its shelter services there, but neighbors and the city shot down the idea.
Some audience members said nothing short of round-the-clock security guards would solve the problems. McDonell said the housing component will provide additional income for the Salvation Army, some of which could be used for things such as improved security.
Sorensen and Salvation Army Major Greg Voeller pledged increased attention to neighborhood concerns.
“My hope is that this is one of many times we are getting together to incorporate your comments,” said Voeller, who has been in his position six weeks.
One of the few supportive audience comments came from prominent Madison developer Terrence Wall, who said he came to the meeting with a negative opinion of the proposal but would be leaving with a positive impression of what he called the concept’s “holistic approach.”
“The Salvation Army — they’re not the problem,” he said, to eventual applause. “The homeless issue is the challenge, and it’s a challenge throughout the community. The Salvation Army is helping to solve this problem.”