County Board Approves Martin Street Location for Homeless Day Shelter

May 19, 2014
County Board Chair Sharon Corrigan, 608.333.2285
County Board

After nearly four hours of testimony and debate, the Dane County Board of Supervisors approved the purchase of an 8,400-square-foot building on Martin Street in the Town of Madison, near the City of Madison’s southwest side, for use as a day shelter and resource center for the homeless by a vote of 26-9.


Supervisor Mary Kolar, sponsor of the proposal, called on Supervisors to support the purchase, saying, "Over two years of effort culminate with our approval of the purchase of 1490 Martin Street.  There are obstacles, but we can work them out together.  We will have a Day Resource Center in 2014 where those in need can get assistance with housing, employment, and health challenges."


The 2013 County budget included $600,000 for the purchase of a day center, but County staff could find no suitable downtown location for that price. The County nearly purchased a MARC Center property on Lien Road last fall, but the price was ultimately deemed too high.


Porchlight, Inc currently operates its Hospitality House at the location. The County plans to purchase the property for $330,000 and undertake significant renovations, including the additions of showers, laundry facilities and storage.


The property is more than two miles from the heart of downtown, prompting some to push for the Board to reject the purchase and continue searching for a downtown location. Many of the citizens who testified against the purchase noted that lack of transportation to and from the site will make it inaccessible.


“A day center that people can’t use is like not having a day center,” said community activist and Tenant Resource Center executive director Brenda Konkel. “This isn’t the game changer we were looking for. This isn’t going to change what happens to homeless people in our community.”


“We’re missing the mark. This site is not well-served by transit. There’s no indication of any funds to increase bus service to this facility,” said Supervisor Heidi Wegleitner.


Wegleitner has proposed allocating 30 days to explore purchase options for a more central location, and $4 million to secure a purchase.


“I still think we should go big. We should at least try with more money,” she said. “Ultimately there’s a moral problem with not meeting people’s needs where they need to be met and making it hard for them. It’s not a question of whether it’s possible.”


Others noted reports of inadequate water service, safety concerns, and neighborhood impact.

Supervisor Kyle Richmond, who represents the district in which the Martin Street building is located, moved to refer the matter back to the Health and Human Needs Committee for further study and possibly take it up again 28 days later on June 12.


“No one disagrees there should be a center ready for people who don’t have homes before the cold weather comes this year,” Richmond said. “Those are not points of debate. But there are a lot of questions. My constituents are concerned with good reason. Just doing something that may not work isn’t wise. I want to get this done, but get this done right.”


Proponents noted that the process has gone on for nearly two years, and many possible downtown locations have been explored.


“I don’t think in 28 days we’ll be better at executing Martin Street than we are today,” said Supervisor Jeff Pertl. “I know that’s tough. But I think we’re going to have to work through these challenges, or we’re going to have to go back to the drawing board. I think we’re better off working through the challenges with our partners.”


“A permanent day resource center should be downtown, but folks, we’ve been looking for a site downtown for over two years,” said Rev. Jonathan Greiser, rector at Grace Episcopal Church on the Capitol Square. Grace Church has been the site of a men’s drop-in overnight shelter for 30 years.

“There’s a proposed site, there’s money for purchase and renovations, and we have great service providers lined up,” said Greiser. “Let’s move forward. Yes, there are issues and problems. But I doubt there will be any problems with this site to which solutions can’t be found. My fear is that a 30-day delay will stretch out to 60 days or 90 days. My fear is that our desire to find the perfect solution will prevent us from understanding and responding to the harsh political and community realities in this city and this county.”


The motion to refer the matter back to committee failed by a vote of 21-14.


The Board unanimously approved an amendment proposed by Supervisor Shelia Stubbs requiring neighborhood listening sessions during the renovation process, but rejected an amendment proposed by Supervisor Dorothy Krause that would force to County to re-open the process to find another site if the Martin Street site proves inadequate.