Housing the homeless comes at a price

Especially when they don’t have to be clean and sober

The cost of compassion

“We must continue to create more affordable housing in Dane County,” Dane County Executive Parisi vowed last year.

Madison Mayor Paul Soglin chimed in: “Tree Lane is a critical element in our commitment to provide affordable family housing. The Tree Lane project is another step in meeting our goal of 800 new units.”

Which means there is more to come. “Affordable housing” comes at a price. In the case of 7933 Tree Lane on the far west side: $11.7 million. For its companion housing at 715 Rethke Avenue on the far east side, the price tag was $8.9 million.

But those figures account only for construction costs. The cost of social services and police calls is on-going. For, in their short histories, both government-subsidized housing developments are what city officials call “troubled.” Because both sites house what had been chronically homeless — Rethke Ave. serves single adults with 60 studio apartments of 325 square feet each; Tree Lane serves families, primarily mothers with children with 45 larger apartments.

With no pre-conditions. No cleaning up their act, no requirement to get a job, no vows to avoid substance abuse or address their mental health issues. No clean and sober first. It’s part of a national experiment called Housing First that turns the traditional model of rehabilitation on its head. Give them housing first and maybe the rest comes later. No pre-conditions. At least they’re not freezing to death on a downtown grate. 

Another difference: Both sites are on a much larger scale than the more familiar housing run by Porchlight and other providers.

Tree Lane 7933

No freezing on a grate at 7533 Tree Lane

Housing doesn’t stop fighting

The WI State Journal did a good job Sunday of detailing the problems at Rethke Avenue. That project went up early last year and generated 140 police calls in its first six months — 46 calls in the month of July; more than one a day!

Madison Police have been typically sluggish in providing the Stately Manor with comparable figures for Tree Lane but we have word of mass melees in the parking lot involving 20 to 30 people fighting. Frequent noise complaints; aimless people roaming around the neighborhood. At least, no stabbings, unlike Rethke.

Both are operated by the Heartland Institute out of Chicago. The brand new, four-story apartment building at Tree Lane opened a little over a month ago with 19 two-bedroom units, 23 three-bedroom units and 3 four-bedroom units. It is tucked away behind the shopping center on the north side of Mineral Point Road just east of the Beltline on the far west side of town. YWCA of Dane County is service provider at Tree Lane. 

We appreciate the time Madison Community Development director Jim O’Keefe spent with this blogge.

Does no ‘visitors’ include the ACLU?

“Both have had their challenges,” Mr. O’Keefe acknowledged.  

He blamed “visitors” at both locations for most of the problems. Now authorities are limiting who can visit and when at both locations — a policy that is sure to rile Madame Brenda Konkel and her minions. Mr. O’Keefe:

I would ask people to afford enough time to make the adjustments as we learn. I know there have been some issues out at Tree Lane in this first month; it is very much a learning process. 

How does he define success? 

Bringing stability to the housing situation, then working with residents to address their behavioral health issues, employment assistance. … the theory is if you address the housing issue, you have more success addressing the other issues. It has been demonstrated to be successful.

Mr. O’Keefe makes the point that the problems are not new but that they moved with the people to the two locations.

These are people — 3 months ago, 6 months ago, who were living on the streets. The emergency detox and law enforcement those issues have been before us … now they have some support services on site. 

But do we have the time?

Mr. O’Keefe said the homeless constitute “a close-knit community” that pretty much know each other. “When one person is fortunate enough to get housing it is not uncommon for friends to want to follow them there or to invite them to share in their good fortune.”

Some people are more inclined than others to accept help. That takes time. 

The City of Madison, Dane County and the federal government paid for the housing, which qualifies for federal Section 8 subsidies, meaning residents pay no more than 30% of their income for rent, if they have any income.

Residents can get basic furnishings if they do not have their own. Each building contains a wellness center, library, technology center, bike storage and garden and teaching kitchen, as well as office space for supportive services.

Blaska’s Bottom Line: But no on-site police officer.

About David Blaska

Madison WI
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15 Responses to Housing the homeless comes at a price

  1. Dan B. says:

    It’s almost like it doesn’t work to simply say “Hey, bums! Shape up or ship out!” Like the problems of mental illness, drug addiction and social anxiety can’t simply be prayed away and continue to vex politicians. Are police complaining about making calls to a building? Would they prefer these folks sleep under bridges, in parks and on State Street? I wouldn’t. And I’m paying my taxes for them to build these buildings (more, please) and police them. It’s almost like the cops would prefer to spend their days playing hoops with neighborhood kids and handing out baseball cards. Wouldn’t we all?


    • Gary L. Kriewald says:

      “Hey, bums! Shape up or ship out!” Words you can be certain no bum in Madison will ever hear–or if they do, they can charge the speaker with a hate crime.


    • Lana says:

      The police are people too and they can be tired of going to the same building again and again for different reasons or similar reasons. The fact that they are answering the calls are enough and are doing the most that they can.


  2. Tom Paine says:

    Let’s be honest.
    1. Poverty can’t be abolished; it is a cultural state of behavior and poor decision-making.
    2. Drug culture advancing. Accelerate the trend since it becomes its own solution.
    3. Subcontract all effort (in the face of its intractable existence) to private liberal groups; they’ll burn themselves-out, perpetually trying to reform “the others.” Let all other citizens decline further responsibility. Advocate Concealed Carry.
    4. Discourage poor-uneducated-dysfunctionals from living in Madison. Export them to the defacto tent city in LA. Let LA libs deal with the problems. Since they know so much, give them increasing opportunities to “do good.”
    5. For those who disagree, send 1000 to Soglin’s neighborhood; send another thousand to Fanlund’s neighborhood. Let them become involved with the granularity of perpetual dysfunctionalism.
    6. Recruit Anon, Bob, old baldy, little rickie, and the other trolls to join the perpetual progressive reform army. With demonstrated wisdom, no need to tax the rest of us for funds to correct “problems.” Libs should have enough themselves to finance victory. We’ll stand back and observe liberals in action.


  3. coolkevs says:

    “The poor will always be among you”
    Jesus Christ


  4. Cornelius Gotchberg says:

    Trending eastward from the Left Coast?

    New San Francisco Mayor: “There’s More Feces… Than I’ve Ever Seen”


    But, it’s just not their fault!

    The Gotch


  5. Gary L. Kriewald says:

    Wanna know what would bring the city’s “homes for the homeless” movement to a screeching halt? Proposing to build the next crime-ridden complexes on the NEAR east side and the NEAR west side. In other words, instead of Tree Lane and Rethke Ave. (or other areas far beyond the purlieu of Madison’s upper-middle-class white liberals), let’s recommend siting the next ones on some tree-lined boulevard in University Heights or within walking distance of the Willy Street Co-op. That would never happen of course, but it would be delightful to watch as Madison’s elites tie themselves in knots explaining why it’s better for everyone to keep operating on the “out of sight, out of mind” principle by building these places out in the boondocks.

    Meanwhile I keep wondering why, despite the spate of costly building projects, the population of bums on State STreet and Library mall keeps expanding. Could it be that word has gotten out that the liberal saps in Madison will roll out the red carpet for you, so haul your sorry asses on over and start living the good life?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Paula Fitz says:

      You’re right!


    • Lana says:

      Gentrification is such a wonderful thing… I agree with you though, if they don’t want to solve the problem in their own neighborhood then aren’t they just hypocrites themselves?


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  8. madisonexpat says:

    What is the cost of providing for a homeless person? $37,000 each per year according to the most recent audit in San Francisco. Most of it in payroll and bennies for the administrators.
    What you subsidize you get more of. Proof positive.
    After all this “compassion” what do the citizens get?
    Human waste (the poop, not the people) and HIV/hep B and C infected needles in the streets.
    On the upside, you can’t smoke tobacco or use plastic straws because…… governance.


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  10. Duane Hunter says:

    Law enforcement says you should lock your doors and windows, cars secure and garage doors down it’s your fault if you don’t do these things. So while we are locked and barred in our house the gets to live and roam free at my expense. Is there something wrong with that picture.


  11. Lana says:

    The fact that people are allowed a second chance is a wonderful thing. Though, when people squander it that is another matter. Most of the people that are being problematic at Rethke and Tree Lane are squandering their opportunities in life and while Heartland Housing has good intentions with these individuals you can’t say that they are all going to appreciate it. We need accountability; we need consequences. Let them stay, yes but, if they are acting up and starting to become a nuisance then, kick them out and allow someone else to have that chance. Additionally, mental illness is not an excuse to act like an intolerable gutter snipe. It is a problem, and it isn’t easy but, the problem must solved at the source. In short, make sure the residents are getting the mental help they need. Either provide them with resources to get that help or make a contract with a psychiatric firm to take in the residents for an affordable rate. Overall, you can’t help people who don’t want to help themselves; there has to be sort of standard in order for this project to be effective otherwise it would just end up being a trash heap for good intentions.

    Source: Security Guard.


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