As Dane County looks to secure a homeless day shelter, a nearby group that serves another vulnerable population is one of the first to publicly oppose the new, yet tentative, location.
Sharyl Kato, director of the Rainbow Project, said it all comes down to safety concerns.
At 831 E. Washington Ave., the Rainbow Project provides a refuge for traumatized families, particularly children. Just a few doors down, at 827 E. Washington Ave., the proposed shelter could temporarily house up to 100 homeless people a day.
Kato acknowledged both parties deserve a safe and warm environment, but she argued that the violence, drugs and alcohol often associated with the homeless will put already vulnerable children at even greater risk.
Since opening its doors 32 years ago, the Rainbow Project has served thousands of abuse victims.
"Because the families we work with already have experienced so much trauma in their lives, we want to minimize the barriers that are there," Kato said.
The Dane County Board passed on about a dozen other sites and instead settled on the empty space that's about 30 paces from Kato's front door to the shelter's entrance.
"The main entrance to the Rainbow Project is actually at the back of a parking lot on East Main Street, so even though the blue awning is here and the purple awning are right next to each other, the entrances are quite far apart," said John Hendrick, a Dane County Board member.
Hendrick also said the county will install a third wall to separate the two organizations, and he proposed new security features, along with a lease that would run four months, rather than six, as an attempt to compromise with Kato.
"Those types of complaints that people are going somewhere to use a restroom or get warm, those are going to be reduced by attracting people to this facility," Hendrick said.\
The former Lussier Teen Center would be open all day, starting next month. It’s across from the former Occupy encampment, where Kato cites dozens of calls to police for theft and assault during the three months participants were there.
"We are definitely advocates for the homeless, but then we are also seeing the risks that can happen that are irreparable in terms of what can happen to a child, and it only takes on incident," Kato said.
The day shelter hinges on whether board members approve the $3,000 a month lease at Thursday night's meeting. The board already approved funding for the one- or two-person staff that Kato argues is too small.
Should this site fail, board members could fall back on a former military building on Wright Street, which is also on Madison's east side.