East Towne Not the Right Location for a Shelter

There are a number of reasons I oppose this location for the permanent men’s shelter. First, the current plan calls for an overnight shelter only, with the addition of expanded services at some unidentified date in the future. The current day center is located at The Beacon which is 6 miles away from 2002 Zeier Rd. It will be tremendously burdensome and difficult for those experiencing homelessness to be expected to traverse this distance and I am concerned that those who are most needing the shelter will not have access.

Secondly, the city has not conducted any economic impact studies of this location or what the potential impact would be if we build a shelter here. The city’s Greater East Towne Area plan has never mentioned or included a permanent men’s shelter in this area. There has been significant interest from developers who are interested in helping make the Greater East Towne Area plan become a reality, however we are now hearing that the developers are looking to pull out of any developments if this shelter is located here. This is very concerning for the future economic revitalization of this area.

Third, the city has not provided an estimate on what the annual operating costs will be to operate a full-service shelter. They did say that the costs will be significantly higher than the current $500k annual budget and will likely result in a large budget gap. I was very surprised that the Finance Committee recommended to authorize the purchase since there are so many unanswered financial questions. 

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 they have 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.   The greater East Towne area has the potential to provide tens of millions of new dollars in tax base. This area could be a significant economic engine that can help fund the very services we are talking about providing for those experiencing homelessness.  But 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 need to take a pause to consider what our options are before we decide to spend $2.6M on this property. We are coming out of a global pandemic that has devastated our small businesses and has hit the East Towne area especially hard. We are facing an unprecedented budget crisis due to loss of tax revenue so I think it is prudent to pause this process so that we can re-evaluate what is best for the future of Madison as well as those experiencing homelessness.