Tragic Shooting at the First Street Men’s Shelter

TO: Mayor, All Alders

This tragic shooting incident is extremely concerning for all involved and my thoughts and prayers are with everyone who was present at this traumatic event. It should give us pause to really consider if housing 200+ individuals in one location is the best approach to solving this challenge. As city leaders, we should at least consider what several, smaller locations that can focus on serving the individual needs, might look like. From my experience not only working with some of the men experiencing homelessness but also other individuals who face anxiety and sometimes suicidal thoughts is that building relationships and accountability is key to helping them get on the path toward healing and wholeness. 

I was down at the shelter last week meeting with Director Preston Patterson and his staff to learn more about how their operation is going. Preston has been the director for 12 years and stated that the last several months have been the most successful of all the years. I inquired as to why specifically and he stated that having the current First Street location, the extra room and easy access to the Beacon has allowed them to provide a better service to the residents. He also stated that he has been able to hire additional case workers which is critical to their success. The case workers are a connection point with the residents and help them apply for longer term housing as well as job opportunities. Preston has been asking for more case workers for a long time and he has finally started to get the funding needed to do this. Again this points to relationship building and how that is key to being successful.

I also asked him if there were security concerns. He stated that yes there is always some level of security concern which is why he and his staff are very diligent in knowing who is entering the facility as well as what their individual challenges are. Again this points to how critical relationship building is. If we want to be successful, we need to ensure the resources are available to facilitate this relationship building.

Preston also stated that the communication with the Beacon staff has been improving so that his staff are aware of any challenges that occurred during the day so they are better prepared for the overnight housing. I am very impressed with Preston’s ability to direct and manage this location and I have a recurring bi-weekly meeting with him and his staff because I believe it is critical that we fully understand the challenges he faces as well as what is working. There are a few dozen organizations that help serve those experiencing homelessness in one way or another, but the communication between these groups appears to be very lacking. We need to be looking at how we can improve this communication gap as it will help us ensure individuals are not falling through the cracks and actually are successfully transitioning to long term housing.  Creating a shared database of data points can help ensure stronger communication across all organizations. All of this is part of my extensive research on this issue because it is imperative we get this right from the get go.

I have been flooded with many communications from district 17 residents and businesses regarding this shooting. They are even more concerned about this move and are looking for answers. The reality is that the East Towne mall location is depressed and has been going downhill for some years. This location, however, is a prime location for a vibrant retail, entertainment, and affordable housing epicenter for not only Madison residents but also south-central Wisconsin residents. It is also the gateway entrance to the city. We have been revitalizing and improving many other sections of East Washington avenue for the last several years and it is critical that we focus on the East Towne area for its revitalization before it is too late. We also need to avoid causing those experiencing homelessness from feeling like they are being pitted against the neighborhoods, businesses and those interested in re-developing the East Towne area. 

I appreciate all the work the city staff have been doing with regards to finding locations for the permanent men’s shelter but also mapping out what the vision could be. However, all the comparable full-service shelters referenced as examples of how this can be successful are not really that comparable. Some of those references have spent upwards of $70M and they are also in well-established downtown locations. None of them have been launched in a currently depressed location like what we are seeing at East Towne. This area, as it currently exists, will be unable to absorb a permanent men’s shelter and it will result in further degradation and additional loss of tax base.

We must be successful in our pursuit of providing full-service facilities for men experiencing homelessness and in order to do this we must understand all of the dynamics involved, especially the cost of operation. According to the city planners, we have no estimates on what the operating costs for will be other than it will be significantly more expensive than the current $500k annual budget and will highly likely result in a budget gap. From a financial perspective, this is very concerning.

If we cannot accurately determine full costs and determine where these additional costs are going to come from, especially as we face an unprecedented budget crisis due the global pandemic, we are not setting ourselves up for success. 

I look forward to working diligently to find the best solution that will ensure those experiencing homelessness are able to achieve long term housing. I will also work diligently toward ensuring that the East Towne area, our gateway to the city, is a vibrant epicenter for affordable housing, entertainment, and shopping.

-Gary Halverson
Candidate for District 17 Alder