We are in the midst of the annual last-minute ritual in Madison to try to patch services and shelter facilities together in an effort to provide for our neighbors who have nowhere to sleep and nowhere to find shelter during the days. This year is worse than previous years because the temporary day shelter that was provided the last two years is not happening. Instead, city and county politicians are hoping to provide funds for some services this winter: bus tickets, showers, storage, and the like. They’ve also funded some outreach activities in the newly-renovated Central Library. You can read more here.
Joe Tarr reports in this week’s Isthmus about how shelter providers are planning for significant increases in the numbers seeking shelter this winter. The reasons for the increase in homelessness in Madison are complex, debatable, and in part beyond the control of anyone in our community.
But there are things within our control. With a rental vacancy rate of under 2% and recent changes that limit the restrictions on landlords, it is very difficult for people with limited income to find housing in Dane County. There’s a boom in construction of apartments across Madison but none of that construction is going to be affordable. The city and county are working to build some single-room occupancy apartments and providing other options but those are long-term solutions. Meanwhile, I learned this week that the number of homeless students in Madison’s Public Schools is 848 and certain to rise in the coming months.
There are signs of hope, however. I toured a facility yesterday that the County is hoping to purchase for a permanent day resource center. The building isn’t available now and will need renovations so it won’t be a solution for this winter. It’s not a great location but in light of the fact that no other site has been identified over the last year, it will probably have to do. And there’s movement on providing medical respite for homeless people as well.
Perhaps by November 2014, the annual ritual I mentioned will no longer take place and our energies can focus on trying to solve some of the systemic problems faced by individuals and families who lack adequate housing.