East-side homeless shelter an opportunity for tackling increased need



This vacant building is planned to be the new location for the homeless shelter on Madison’s East side.

Chris Bird, Managing Editor

The City Of Madison and Dane County are working to establish a new permanent men’s homeless shelter at 2002 Zeir Road, near the East Towne Mall. There has been a bit of an outcry from people who are concerned about how this new shelter will affect the, already struggling, businesses in the area. On the other hand, there have been reports since the COVID pandemic began that say that more and more people are facing the threat of homelessness, and the situation hasn’t been getting any better. Even before this all began, in 2019 we saw an increase in the homeless population by 2%, according to The Road Home in Dane County.

Madison has had concerns about similar situations in the past, namely with the Rethke Terrace building, which was another large project dedicated to housing the homeless. Rethke Terrace faced problems, producing more than 250 police calls in 12 months, according to the Wisconsin State Journal. These problems were largely addressed by hiring more staff and specialists who were suited to providing support that the residents needed.

Despite stumbling at first, Rethke Terrace did eventually become what Madison had hoped to see out of the project; an example of what Housing First can do to help those who are in a tough spot. Housing First is straightforward, it’s the idea that people should be housed in a stable environment before extreme limits are placed as terms for their rehabilitation.

It is understandable why many programs have rules such as prohibiting alcohol and drugs, but it is also important to recognize that living without a home places pressures on a person that most can’t even imagine. Giving a starting point, and a place of support, to people who are trying to get back on their feet can be exactly what many of the chronic homeless need to turn their situation around.

The only concern I have about this new project, is that I fear we will see the same mistakes that were made with Rethke Terrace. If Madison and Dane County are serious about making this project a success, they need to fund it properly and provide the building with the proper staff that will be able to handle any problems and help as many people towards recovery as they can.

The homeless of Madison don’t have the time to keep waiting on relief as politicians and business owners argue for concessions on this project. What the homeless need is a strong plan to support those in need, and those in charge of organizing the new shelter need to go all out in their efforts to create a shelter that can make a real positive impact. Aiming low and understaffing, or underfunding this project is only going to lead to instability for those this plan aims to help, and it will put more pressure on an already struggling community. Do this right, and we can be glad to say that some of the most vulnerable of our city are being given an opportunity to find the stability and happiness that everyone deserves.