Committee sets 2023 goals to reduce homelessness in Madison

MADISON, Wis. — After more than three decades of working with people that are homeless, Karla Thennes has seen many people walk through shelter doors, but never to this degree.

“Our numbers are going up at the men’s shelter,” Thennes said. “We had an all-time high a few weeks ago of 222 people, and by all-time high, I mean, forever in my 35 years of working with shelters.”

The emergency men’s shelter is just one of many housing options provided by Porchlight, a non-profit that works to reduce homelessness across Madison. Thennes, the organization’s executive director, said lately, more and more people have been reaching out for help.

“I don’t see the high numbers as necessarily a bad thing,” Thennes said. “Because I see it as fewer people outside, more people seeking shelter. And then, of course, the negative would be well, now those folks need to move into affordable housing.”

RELATED: High demand for new temporary men’s shelter set to open on Madison’s East Side

Madison’s lack of affordable housing is just one of many problems being tackled by the City-County Homeless Issues Committee. Monday night, members met to review this past year’s accomplishments; namely, selecting a location for a permanent men’s shelter, authorizing funding for the temporary Dairy Drive campground and making headway to adopt a Homeless Bill of Rights. But while the committee has made significant strides, there are still plenty of issues yet to be solved.

As the committee looks toward its goals for 2023, a top priority is digging past the resources available to find the root of homelessness in Madison.

“We need to start thinking outside the box and find ways to get people help,” said a committee supervisor, Michele Doolan. “You can’t just give counseling and therapy to people whose lives are terrible because they can’t pay their bills. No amount of therapy will make that better for anyone.”

A tentative 2023 committee work plan includes possible support for homeless high school parents, an increase in immediate housing options and research into access barriers for jobs, childcare, and transportation.

While the goals may appear ambitious, they remain critically important for shelters that are now unable to match this community’s needs.

“If somebody calls from out of town, I just say, ‘you will be a homeless person here, you are not coming to Madison to move into housing, there aren’t any quick groups that you can get in on to move into housing right away,'” Thennes said. “Which is my way of saying, ‘don’t come here unless you want just to be another homeless person in one of our shelters.”