Ulysses Williams is trying to get everyone to focus. The 58-year-old was homeless for about 14 months until he finally saved enough money to get his own apartment last August.
Since then, he's made it his mission to corral those interested in helping the homeless - churches, city and county officials, and activist groups like Occupy Madison - to build a new homeless shelter. His vision is a 24-hour-a-day shelter that would serve men, women and children and provide access to social services.
"I wanted to bring all the groups, all the individuals that wanted a 24-hour, 365-day shelter, to hopefully push together and get one for the city," Williams says. "Right now, mainly homeless people are doing it. More agencies are starting to get involved."
In recent years, several homeless people have become politically engaged and are pushing for new shelters and services. The various groups aren't always talking to each other, something Williams is trying to change.
He has been holding meetings twice a week at the Fountain restaurant, where he works. Lynn Green, director of Dane County's Department of Human Services, and Sue Wallinger, who oversees the city's homeless programs, attended the group's Monday afternoon meeting.
The two were encouraging, but they also tried to rein in the group's ambitions. The group, which doesn't have a name, has lofty ideas. One is to create a 24-hour restaurant at the shelter to provide homeless people a place to work, as well as a place to go when nothing else is open.
"You have some grand ideas and that is great," Wallinger told the group. "I think you should zero in on what's most important to you. I'm concerned that your net is thrown out so wide that nobody would be able to accomplish that much. You really need to start small."
The group is also getting encouragement from First United Methodist Church on Wisconsin Avenue, which offers some homeless services. Karen Andro, director of First United's outreach ministries, says the church is interested in funding a shelter that would serve all groups: families, children and single adults. But she says there is no silver-bullet solution to the homeless issue in Madison.
"I can only imagine when Porchlight opened and people thought, 'Wow, we're not going to have homeless people on the street anymore,'" she says. "There are limitations to what anybody can do."
Williams is under no illusion that his group will solve problems overnight. The homeless shelter in Ann Arbor, Mich., which he uses as a model, took four years to open.
"Most of the people who are involved now may not even be here in four years. I may not be here," Williams says. "But it's got to start somewhere."