“In four months, the city and Salvation Army of Dane County have transformed a vacated former nursing home on the East Side to a shelter that will better serve 35 of the area’s neediest homeless families.
The city in January acquired the 36,192-square-foot former Karmenta Center, set on 3.3 acres at 4502 Milwaukee St., for $2.75 million. Since then, it’s been refurbishing the facility so the Salvation Army, which has long provided shelter to homeless single women and families at 630 E. Washington Ave., can relocate families there from hotels being used during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Salvation Army will begin moving families there in mid-May.
The X-shaped building, once the third-largest of Dane County’s 18 nursing homes, closed in the spring of 2019. It will now be used to provide about 55 separate rooms for residents, a kitchen, dining room, office, staff lounge, laundry facilities, showers and restrooms.
“We’ll be able to operate a 24-hour shelter and will be able to serve more families than we were able to at our previous East Wash location,” said Salvation Army Maj. Andrew Shiels. “It will also offer families more space to spread out to beyond their current hotel room.”
Initially, families will be connected to a “diversion specialist” to see if they qualify for other options than shelter. If not, the family will be offered shelter or placed on a prioritized waiting list if there is no space.
“I think this is a good development for families and our community,” said city community development grants supervisor Linette Rhodes. “It shows that, given patience, time and money, we can create adequate and safe places for people experiencing homelessness to connect with resources.”
Historically, the Salvation Army has been the point of entry for women and families experiencing homelessness, operating the area’s lone drop-in family shelter at 630 E. Washington Ave., Shiels said. The nonprofit also partners with the YWCA.
“This model worked well for what we had available,” Shiels said. “(But) we were very limited by physical space at our East Washington location. Our max capacity was about 22 families, and at the greatest demand, we were often met with double that amount seeking shelter.”
The pandemic forced the Salvation Army to revamp its services.
“We had to move families off site from the East Washington location to be able to provide social distancing for both the families and the women,” Sheils said. “The families were moved to hotel sheltering, and then both the family and women’s shelter became a 24-hour shelter.”
In 2020, the Salvation Army provided 57,875 shelter nights to families, a dramatic increase from 2019, when it provided 27,192 nights of shelter, he said.
“The city began exploring the purchase of the former nursing home at the start of the pandemic and considered it as a site for medical respite but decided not to move forward with that plan,” Rhodes said. “As we discussed strategies to support the community in response to COVID-19, the opportunity to purchase the building and move families out of the hotel system presented itself, and the city agreed that it was a good strategy.”
When the city bought the building it also acquired all the equipment and furnishings left there, Rhodes said. The city decided what could stay for use by the Salvation Army and held an auction to remove medical equipment and furnishings typically used in senior living facilities, she said.
The building hadn’t been used for a few years, so another major project was getting all of the systems working again, Rhodes said. “It was a huge team effort,” she said. “Literally, 100 city staff folks came together to make this happen.”…..
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