In the early weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic, the City, Dane County, and our network of service providers acted quickly to improve the safety of the shelter system for those experiencing homelessness.

The Salvation Army, which for many years has operated an overnight shelter facility on East Washington Ave for both families and single women, removed all families from that location and moved them into area hotels. With the financial support of the federal government and working with the County, Salvation Army provided safer quarters for families and children along with more room to better, and more safely, shelter the single women who stayed behind. At the time, the Salvation Army was sheltering 22 families and had a dozen more on its waiting list. Months later, those numbers had surged to more than 50 families. The Salvation Army has done a good job helping families secure permanent housing, and those efforts continue.

In a few weeks, the Salvation Army will be ready to begin moving up to 35 families from temporary accommodations to a much more hospitable location on Milwaukee Street. This facility was recently purchased by the City and has been converted from a former nursing facility to a welcoming shelter. Preparing this site was a huge Team City effort – my thanks go out to the many departments and divisions who helped with this project: Community Development, Building Inspection, Planning/Zoning, Madison Fire Department, Madison Police Department, Real Estate, Streets, Parks/Forestry, Traffic Engineering, Engineering, etc.

One hundred City staff came together to make this happen, and invaluable contributions were made by all. Community partners also contributed to aid with the preparation of the building. Common Wealth Development STEP program, which connects adults with work opportunities, spent time on the site to assist in City staff with preparation work, while the Salvation Army worked hard to make the location a reality as well. It shows that with hard work, time and money, we can create safe places for people experiencing homelessness to connect with resources. The Salvation Army plans to operate out of this space on Milwaukee Street for the next 3-5 years as they prepare to re-develop their East Washington site to a modern, purpose-built shelter to better serve families and single women.

While these plans were being brought to life, the City took additional steps to protect single men from COVID, first with a temporary shelter at Warner Park and then with another large shelter at the First Street garage (another enormous Team City undertaking!). Our First Street shelter hosted a vaccination clinic last week and remains only half full. This week, we are hoping to move forward with a plan to create a purpose-built shelter for homeless men at a Zeier Road location back behind the mall. You can join the discussion and debate on this issue by participating in the upcoming Madison Common Council meeting on May 4th at 6:30 p.m. Learn more here.

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