Resources available for those in need

Porchlight and The Beacon offer Madison’s homeless a place to turn

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Resources available for those in need

Madison homeless people with dog

Madison homeless people with dog

Mitchell Barradas

Madison homeless people with dog

Mitchell Barradas

Mitchell Barradas

Madison homeless people with dog

Luke Hoppe, Contributor

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In 2018, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) estimated that 4,907 people are homeless in Wisconsin and that 92 percent are currently sheltered, according to the HUD’s Annual Homeless Assessment Report.

When Madison experienced one of its worst winters and two homeless men froze to death, prompting an immediate response from the local faith communities to create a bare bones shelter. That shelter eventually became Porchlight, a non-profit organization that provides shelter for homeless men in Madison.

Local homeless men get 90 nights in the shelter each year starting Nov. 1 and going to about April 1, excluding weather exception nights (nights below -20 degrees wind chill), in the hopes that no one else suffers the same fate of the two men 35 years ago.

“It’s rare that anyone has (only) 90 nights because we live in Wisconsin,” Karla Thennes Executive Director of Porchlight, said, “because we had such an awful cold, cold winter we had one gentleman who had 150 nights.” 

The shelter itself provides a roof over people’s head, a hot meal, as well as laundry and shower services. A local medic group does come in to the shelter to provide very basic medical assistance and the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs comes in to meet with homeless veterans.

“As a community we are currently at 39 days, which is amazing, but there will never be a day that we will not need emergency housing,” said Thennes

Thennes believes that the high cost of housing in the area is what drives many of the people they see each day to use emergency shelter services.

Aside from the shelter, Porchlight currently owns 350 units of housing across 26 locations in the Madison area, most of which house single men, but also some families and women as well. Porchlight uses this as both transitional and permanent housing, unfortunately with the high demand for housing in the area there are wait lists to rent these units.

Porchlight also has a program for eviction prevention called Dwelling Intervention Grants & Sustenance (DIGS), which allows people to apply for direct funding in the situation of a crisis; your car breaks down and now you can’t get to work is a prime example. DIGS would examine the situation and give a certain amount of funding as long as that funding can be proved to prevent you from being homeless.

The program does have it limits in that people applying for aide can only do so in a certain time period and only up to a certain amount.

While Porchlight aims to combat the issue directly by providing people with housing, The Beacon takes a different approach, partnering with over 24 agencies to combat needs on a more individual level.

The shelters that Porchlight provides are night time relief to homelessness. The Beacon, however, provides many of those same services during the day; shower and laundry, meals and transport to and from shelters for the evening. The Beacon also offers mail services where they can get mail sent to and from The Beacon and also have access to phones, Internet and medical services including therapy.

Another service The Beacon provides is the Vulnerability Index – Service Prioritization Decision Assistance Tool (VI-SPDAT), an assessment to determine your housing needs to which the local governing body would be able to prioritize who needs housing more. Participants typically find housing within four to six months according to Kimberly Tesch an Operations Specialist at The Beacon.

Both Tesch and Thennes agree that the best way to reach out to people who typically don’t have access to news outlets/sources is by word of mouth. Tesch added that the biggest services that are utilized are laundry, showers and employment services.

The biggest issue both organizations face currently is staffing and volunteers. The Beacon can have nearly 200 people come through their doors on a given basis, while Porchlight provides housing for so many individuals, both need volunteers more than ever to help combat homelessness.

For more information about Porchlight and the Beacon or to get involved go to porchlightinc.org and thebeaconhelps.org.

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