Dane County will explore extending its emergency hotel sheltering program for homeless people at high risk of severe illness from COVID-19 amid an ongoing uptick in virus cases, County Executive Joe Parisi said Wednesday.
Parisi suggested the county spend another $3 million to extend the program for eight months past its late June expiration date. The new funding would require approval from the County Board. So far, the county has spent $23.1 million on the emergency shelter program.
“We made a commitment at the outset of the pandemic to do all we can to help protect our most vulnerable, and while our work continues to secure permanent housing, emergent needs persist and they’re magnified by the recent surge in COVID-19 case counts and hospitalizations,” Parisi said in a statement.
Over the past two weeks, Dane County saw an average of 334 people testing positive for the virus each day, a 15% increase from two weeks ago. The total number of people testing positive each day has decreased 47% in the last two weeks, though daily positive tests have risen 261% since a post-omicron variant lull in mid-March.
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“While many have moved on and shifted focus away from the pandemic, the effects of this ever-changing virus are still being felt and vulnerable populations remain at risk,” the county executive said.
The county currently uses 170 hotel rooms for the emergency shelter program. The additional $3 million in funding would allow 120 people to secure housing outside typical shelter settings over the next eight months, Parisi said.
The first step for prolonging the program is getting an extension for emergency housing at the Madison Plaza Hotel at 3841 E. Washington Ave. on the Far East Side, said Ariana Vruwink, Parisi’s spokesperson.
In April, developer Repvblik Madison submitted plans to the city for converting the hotel into a 155-unit apartment complex outfitted with co-working spaces, a landscaped courtyard and residential lounges.
Morgan Van Riper-Rose, the owner of Repvblik Madison, had not responded to a request for comment.
Due to previous uncertainty over how long the hotel would serve as a homeless shelter, a different developer, Gorman and Co., backed off last fall from converting the property into 105 low-income housing units. The City Council had voted to award the developer $1.85 million for the $23.4 million proposal.
In anticipation of extending the emergency shelter program, the county has started discussions with other hotel owners, Vruwink added.
“We remain hopeful in our ability to work with partners and develop a solution,” Vruwink said.
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