‘We don’t have anything like it’: Madison announces plans for purpose-built men’s homeless shelter

MADISON, Wis. — More than a year after plans for a permanent men’s homeless shelter fell through, city leaders have come up with a solution they say will make needed resources available to people experiencing homelessness.

During a joint press conference Wednesday morning, Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway and County Executive Joe Parisi announced plans to build a brand new men’s homeless shelter on a piece of city-owned land on Madison’s east side.

Located on the city’s northeast side at 1902 Bartillon Drive, the new shelter will be built from scratch and include access to nearby Bus Rapid Transit stations upon completion, access to food outlets, and potentially a new city library.

“We are purposefully building a shelter to give people a place to go and to connect to services, and to connect to permanent housing. So we get to start from the ground up to think about what this population needs and how to design that into the building, and that I think is actually the most exciting thing about this project,” Rhodes-Conway said. “Madison has never experienced this. We don’t have anything like it. In fact, I don’t think we have anything like it in the state of Wisconsin.”

In 2020, many local shelters — which relied on church basements and other spaces — were forced to shutter their operations because of health concerns amid the COVID-19 pandemic. City leaders responded by opening a temporary shelter at Warner Park before shifting the shelter to Madison’s former Fleet Services Building in November 2020.

 

Since then, city leaders have struggled to find a location for a permanent men’s shelter after plans to transform a vacant building on Madison’s east side fell through after the building’s owner backed out of a sale agreement with the city.

In early 2021, the city announced plans to create a permanent shelter in a vacant building on Zeier Road near East Towne Mall, but those plans failed when the Madison Common Council voted against a proposal to buy the building.

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Late last year, the city slightly changed course and approved plans to buy the Zeier Road building with plans to use it as a new temporary men’s shelter in order to allow for the former Fleet Services Building to be transformed into a public market by the fall of 2023.

“Shelter, as we all know, is not a final solution in and of itself,” Parisi said. “It is, however, critical to our overall continuum of services needed to keep people safe and on the path to becoming housed.”

City leaders will introduce a resolution with the Common Council next week seeking approval to use the vacant city-owned site on Bartillion Drive for the new shelter. Design work is then expected to take most of 2022, with tentative plans to begin construction in early 2023. Together, the city and county have budgeted $9 million for the project, $3 million of which will come from Dane County’s budget.