The Dane County Board of Supervisors will be debating a resolution to purchase a property on Martin Street to be used for a Homeless Day Resource Center. In recent weeks there’s been a good deal of debate about the merits of the location and various problems including adequate transportation and water supply. This is only the latest chapter in an ongoing saga about which I’ve written repeatedly over the last several years.
There are valid concerns about the location. It has been the site of Porchlight’s Hospitality House which has operated in part as a day shelter. Over the years, transportation has been inadequate. The location is just off of a major bus line, but it is not downtown and the vans that have shuttled guests from downtown homeless shelters and other agencies have not always operated at an optimal capacity.
But I think efforts to seek a thirty-day delay in the purchase of the property are misguided. I doubt that any amount of money would be able to shake loose a suitable downtown location from property owners, and even if it were miraculously able to do so, a downtown site would still have to overcome massive resistance from downtown residents, business owners, as well as city staff, alders, and the mayor. So at the end of the thirty day delay, we would be left with one option on the table, the same Martin Street property with thirty fewer days to prepare for a November 1 opening date.
A delay, or worse yet, a County Board vote against the purchase of the property, would make it more likely that we would face another winter with cobbled-together and inadequate provisions for resources for homeless people.
There comes a time when advocates have to re-shape their visions and hopes for the futures to reflect political and community realities. This seems to be one of those times. The tentative plans for the center include necessary services like laundry, showers, and storage as well as opportunities for guests to connect with social service agencies that can help them find housing and the other support they need. Supervisors and homeless advocates should work together in the coming months to ensure that the important questions are answered adequately, issues resolved, and that the Day Center will be ready to serve the homeless community at the earliest possible date.