‘Dust ourselves off and we start over’: Search for men’s homeless shelter site begins again

MADISON, Wis. – Just one day after city and county leaders announced the location for a permanent men’s homeless shelter in Madison, they’re on the hunt for a different site.

The city received word Tuesday night that the property owner of the intended site at 4111 East Towne Blvd. was withdrawing from their tentative agreement.

Since COVID-19 hit, men experiencing homelessness have been staying at Warner Park after having previously slept in close quarters in downtown church basements.

The location near East Towne Mall would have offered a permanent site set to open in a little more than a year from now.

“We were excited about it,” said Jim O’Keefe, the city’s community development director. “We dust ourselves off and we start over.”

O’Keefe said the property owner of 4111 East Town Blvd. is instead selling the site to an unidentified party without a contingency. The city’s offer still would have had to have been approved by the Common Council next month, likely on Nov. 17. The seller said she had been advised to give no comment.

“Obviously, it was disappointing,” Alder Samba Baldeh said. The shelter, which is planned to eventually offer services to help men get back on their feet, was set to have been built in his district.

“It was a first of its kind, also a step forward to really ending homelessness,” Baldeh said. “I had heard from some businesses around there they were not happy this thing was coming up there. At the same time, the homeless population is all of our responsibility.”


He said being located in a business district rather than a neighborhood was one of the reasons the site was the best option.

“Anything that has to do with homeless or poor people, in many cases people will say, ‘Not in my backyard,” Baldeh said.

Wherever the shelter ends up, Baldeh said a top priority will still be ensuring surrounding businesses thrive.

Another selling point to the chosen site was the fact that the building, a former Play Haven Child Care location, was in a good position to convert to a shelter. O’Keefe said that’s something they’ll be focusing on as they choose the next option, in addition to transit accessibility and ability to expand.

“We’re not just looking for any property that’s for sale or any vacant building,” O’Keefe said. “Properties that are attractive are attractive to other users, as well, so they’re hard to come by, but they’re out there. We found this one. We’re pretty confident we’ll find another.”

Combined, the city and county have pledged $6 million toward the project. The East Towne Blvd. site would have cost about $1.3 million.

“The city and county have demonstrated a clear financial and moral commitment to getting this project done for the betterment of homeless services in this community,” said Josh Wescott, Chief of Staff to Dane County Executive Parisi, in a statement. “City and county staff are already mapping next steps to identify potential community partners. “