Salvation Army plan deserves path to approval in Madison
Madison should welcome and root for the Salvation Army’s plan to expand its shelter, services and affordable housing on the Near East Side.
The charitable organization, best known for ringing bells to raise money for the needy at Christmas time, is still refining how it wants to replace and dramatically improve its facilities in the 600 block of East Washington Avenue. Some adjustments to its proposal may be needed. Neighborhood concerns must be considered — something the Salvation Army pledges to address.
But the larger goal should be to find a way to say “yes” to this vital project. Madison needs more progress in helping the homeless find stable housing and pursue better lives.
The Salvation Army provided 23,752 nights of shelter to families and 16,582 to single women last year. But its current two-story building is outdated and limited. It would be demolished to help make room for two new buildings to better serve the community and struggling people looking to get their lives back on track.
The Salvation Army’s homeless shelter would expand its beds for single women from about 40 to 60, and nearly double its rooms for families to 40. The plan is to create more space for medical and dental clinics, as well as mental health services. A modern kitchen would serve meals. Office space, a gym, children’s activities and 25 single-room units for rent are part of the proposal, along with 40 efficiency and one-bedroom apartments.
In a city where the average home is valued at more than $300,000, affordable units for people who work hard in lower-paying jobs are hard to find. The Salvation Army project would provide new options.
The organization has intensified its efforts in recent years to find stable housing for homeless people, offering weekly meetings with social workers and financial counseling. Since 2016, the Salvation Army’s rapid rehousing program has found stable places to live for 441 people, including 46 single women and 125 families.
That’s an impressive record.
The height of the group’s buildings is still being determined. So are its applications for financial help, including federal tax credits. The Salvation Army plans a fundraiser to help pay for the project.
Some neighbors are concerned about disturbances, trespassing and drug use in the area, often by people who hang around but are not using the shelter, according to Ald. Patrick Heck, who represents the neighborhood. Those worries should be taken seriously.
What Madison shouldn’t do is look for reasons to stop this needed redevelopment from moving forward. The site is near Downtown, along a major bus route and across the street from The Beacon, a day resource center for the homeless.
The State Journal drew attention to the city’s and state’s desperate homeless population in 2016 with the series “Homeless in Madison | A City Challenged.” A 6-year-old boy, K’Won Watson, was featured in one article. He called the Salvation Army his home, and was determined to get to kindergarten.
Far too many single mothers with children are homeless or at risk of losing a stable place to live in Madison. The Salvation Army wants to help more of them succeed. Our community should encourage this noble effort.