City of

District 17

Alder Samba Baldeh

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Alder Samba Baldeh

Contact Information

Home Address:

5150 Crescent Oaks Dr
Madison , WI 53704

Council Office

Common Council Office:
210 Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd
Room 417
Madison, WI 53703
Phone: (608) 266-4071
Fax: (608) 267-8669
WI Relay Service

Alder Baldeh’s Blog

Men Shelter in the Middle of East Town!

January 30, 2021 9:24 PM

Dear Neighbor -

Yesterday, the Mayor announced that the city intends to build a 250-400 bed Men's Shelter on Zeier Rd. (the former Saver's Foods) directly across the street from East Towne.  This project is now budgeted to cost $6 million ($3 million from the city and $3 million from the county). Men are now sheltered at a new facility on 1st St. and Johnson in the former city garage.

I want to share with you some of my thinking on this very important issue.

We need a men's shelter - There is an on-going need for a men's shelter. The city's shelter on 1st St. has many occupants, especially in the winter. The need fluctuates over time but there is a core number of men (and women) who are homeless and who generally have mental and physical health problems that resulted in being unable to gain shelter.

Location, location and location - Just like the joke about the three qualities that make a restaurant successful, so it is with shelters and other projects that serve poor people.

This shelter, like others, is not a home or place to live. It is simply a night shelter where occupants arrive in the evening and then leave in the morning. That means that the occupants have to be able to get there in the evening and leave in the morning. (It won't be a problem for people who work in the area.)

Many occupants will go to The Beacon, which is a Day Shelter, on East Wash downtown. Others may go downtown for work or hanging-out. As a result, most occupants will rely on buses for transportation. The Savers site is one-third of a mile from the bus route on East Wash. That's a long walk-especially in the cold. Buses from East Towne generally run every half hour.

Because this location is located in the Far Eastside, it will difficult for it's target group of occupants to even get to the site. If it is difficult and costly ($4) to go downtown and back, why not stay in the area. East Towne is across the street.

Throwing East Towne Under the Bus - Businesses in this area besides the mall area are already struggling. These include hotels and motels where low income and homeless people have taken refuge including those found to be Covid-19 positive. Esst Towne has declared bankruptcy. The double blows of Covid-19 and Amazon have taken a tremendous toll on retail businesses. There are occasional heavily publicized violent incidents that reduce the number of shoppers. Although most spaces are occupied, including the Food Court, these are difficult times.

Now that the second largest retail site in the city is in trouble, what is the city's solution?  Build the largest homeless shelter in the Midwest across the street! East Towne neither can or should bar occupants of the shelter from visiting the mall. But it will not be welcomed by storeowners and operators in the Food Court.

The City Track Record - This is not the city's first attempt to address this problem. Four years ago, the city opened a 60-unit single-room residency right off East Wash on Rethke St. for homeless men and women. By the first summer, most of the police calls in the East District were to that one location. More staff were hired, problem residents were either arrested or evicted and is now operating well. Two years ago, the city opened a residence on Tree Lane for homeless and very low-income families. A similar situation ensued and continued until more staff were hired.

Now the city wants to build the largest shelter in the Midwest. The initial building will be for 250 men and have space for expansion to 400 beds. Compare this to the approach taken by Chicago, where its 50 shelters serve 3000 individuals- for an average of 60. Smaller is better.

Why Not Stay on 1st Street? Last year the city spent more than $1 million to turn the old City Garage into a 200-bed men's shelter. This site is on the two major bus lines and about one mile from The Beacon.

Now, the Mayor says the shelter has to move to build the $14 million Public Market. Why not move the Public Market to East Towne and save taxpayers $6 million and possibly save the businesses at the Mall and the surrounding area?

Summary - I have about two months remaining on my term on Council. This project is on the "super-fast track." The project was announced on Frida, it will go to the Finance  Committee on 02/08/2021 and then only be reviewed by one committee, the City County Homeless Issues Committee  and then the Council on March 2nd for final approval! This is not the righ location for a shelter, no matter the services the city is promising to bring along. I also think the both the business owners and the incoming alder who will be dealing with all the issues that will come about should should be given the opportunity to opine instead or rushing it. If we are serious about supporting our business community, providing sustainable support and solutions to our homeless community, the east town area needs a holistic approach. 

If you want to share your views on this project you can contact the Mayor's Office at 608-266-4611 or email at Contact the Mayor's Office.

You can reach me

Thank you all and keep safe.


Tags: shelter

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