There are places to turn for help if you're homeless in Madison, says Daniel Callahan, who has been homeless off and on for decades. But finding those services is often an impossible chore for people down on their luck. To make things worse, the services are generally scattered all over town.
"If you have things spread all over the city, it's hard to get things done," Callahan says. "Especially when you've got backpacks and bags you're carrying around with you."
On the long list of services needed for homeless people, a day shelter is at the top. The ideal place would be centrally located, with showers, lockers, computers and counselors who could connect people to the appropriate services: job training, housing assistance and medical care.
In recent months, a coalition of groups - spurred on by Occupy Madison - has been pressuring the city and county to provide such a place. As winter nears, the need for a day shelter becomes more pressing. Two regular homeless hangouts - the Capitol basement and the downtown library - remain closed to the public. The basement has been shut down since the 2011 protests, and the library is being renovated.
Last year, the city created a temporary shelter in the old Don Miller car dealership on the 800 block of East Washington Avenue. The Occupy Madison site right next to it also provided a refuge. But both places are gone now that the site is being developed.
"A lot of people are going to be stuck out in the cold again this winter, on the park benches and doorways all over the place," Callahan says. "People may freeze to death. It's happened before and will happen again."
This year, the Tenant Resource Center applied for a $150,000 grant from the city to run a day shelter that would provide showers, laundry, a kitchen, computers, lockers and meeting rooms. The Dane County Board has expressed support for the idea and pledged to help financially, without saying how much.
The city, in its budgeting process so far, has not allocated any money for the project. Brenda Konkel, executive director of the Tenant Resource Center, doubts whether Mayor Paul Soglin or County Executive Joe Parisi will put money into the budget for the shelter.
"They don't seem to think it's necessary," she says. "That's my gut feeling. But we haven't talked to them yet."
Konkel is more hopeful that the Common Council and Dane County Board would agree to add money for the shelter.
The city does currently have a day shelter, the Hospitality House, at 1490 Martin St. Run by Porchlight, the Hospitality House lacks many of the amenities that the Tenant Resource Center would provide, including showers, lockers and laundry. There is only one computer, and many homeless people complain about the atmosphere, calling it the "hostility house."
"There are a couple of offices and a small room with a TV," says county Supv. Heidi Wegleitner. "It's not a place you could serve a lot of people or host programs that would provide access to laundry and storage. It's small, and the scope is pretty limited."
Last year, Porchlight spent $467,241 running the Hospitality House.
Steve Schooler, executive director of Porchlight, says he has mixed feelings about the need for a new day shelter. All of the services the shelter would provide, he says, are now available in other places. While it would be great to have them all in one place, he says, he questions whether the added convenience is worth $150,000.
"Would that be the best use of those resources, that to some extent duplicates what is already out there?" he asks. "Or would it be a better use to develop programs and housing?"
Callahan says the convenience would make a world of difference for some people. "It's always a struggle because there's red tape you've got to go through to get things accomplished," he says. "To have everything downtown in one centralized place would make it easier to get back on your feet."