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Thursday, September 18, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 62.0° F  A Few Clouds
The Daily
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East Washington Avenue warming shelter for homeless closes
Committee continues search for permanent facility
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Wegleitner: 'Most neighborhoods have homeless people living in them right now.'
Wegleitner: 'Most neighborhoods have homeless people living in them right now.'

On Sunday, the warming shelter located at 827 E. Washington Ave. will close its doors.

The facility was intended to be open for only one season, but Dane County officials wanted a permanent, year-round day shelter that would provide people access to showers, lockers, food and services. (The city's current shelters are only open for overnight stays.)

But where that center will be located, when it will open and who will operate it remain unanswered questions.

"We are looking at sites that are available that meet our criteria," says Laura Guyer, the county's real estate and acquisition director. "We haven't found a perfect match yet."

The current location is not an option because Dane County Executive Joe Parisi promised the neighboring Rainbow Project that the shelter would be temporary. With no obvious site, the county is putting out a request for proposals to property owners in hopes of turning up some new possibilities. The county has $600,000 budgeted for planning and acquisition.

Mike Basford, chairman of the Dane County homeless issues committee, which is tasked with evaluating locations, hopes to find a site on the isthmus. It needs to be near service providers, bus routes and bike trails, and have the appropriate zoning. The committee wants at least 4,000 square feet of space. Basford admits location is one of the thornier issues: Wherever it is proposed, neighbors are likely to object.

"There is going to be no location that everyone is okay with," Basford says. "It just absolutely makes sense that we serve homeless folks downtown. We're going to hopefully site this close to the Capitol."

Dane County Supv. Heidi Wegleitner says she's encouraged that the temporary shelter had no serious problems.

"The Tenney-Lapham neighborhood was initially opposed, but a short time after the shelter opened, several residents toured the building, volunteered and got involved," she says.

"Most neighborhoods have homeless people living in them right now," she adds. "This would give these people a place to go."

The shelter has been open seven days a week since Dec. 3. It has served between 101 and 164 people a day, says manager Sarah Gillmore.

During that time, staff have requested police assistance for medical situations - "including helping someone get to the hospital to deliver her baby and helping people get to detox" - 14 times. Police were called twice to assist with aggressive behavior. Neighbors have also called police, she adds.

"Guests have contacted MPD on each other, with various concerns," Gillmore says. "I am not sure the actual number of times MPD has been contacted, but I do know that none of the calls warranted being on the police incident reports."

The committee has set an aggressive timeline - the plan is to purchase or rent a building by May 1 and open Nov. 1.

Wegleitner says a day shelter is essential to helping homeless people get back on their feet. "The business of trying to survive when you're homeless is so challenging," she says. "The basic needs of trying to shower, eat, find out where you're going to go that night - you can spend your whole day meeting those needs, and then you don't have any time to look for a job or [apply for services]."

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