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Crews work to complete shelters in once-vacant lot on Dairy Drive

The city of Madison hopes to move people into the shelters by the middle of November.
Published: Nov. 2, 2021 at 9:47 AM CDT|Updated: Nov. 2, 2021 at 6:47 PM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - Construction crews are transforming a vacant lot at 3202 Dairy Drive into the City of Madison’s new temporary site for people experiencing homelessness.

“This property was city-owned prior. Owned by the fire department across the street,” said Hannah Mohelnitzky with the City of Madison Engineering Division. “As can you see, it is a bunch of dirt right now, but there is a lot going on.”

The site will soon house 30 individual shelters purchased from Pallet – a company that manufactures, delivers, and assembles pre-fabricated shelters.

“We are super excited to bring our shelter village concept to Madison in the coming weeks,” said Brandon Bills, marketing director with Pallet.

Pallet says each of the shelters can be put together in less than one hour.

“The shelters we are shipping to Madison are about 64 square feet each, so they are 8x8,” said Bills. “Each shelter contains beds, shelving along the back wall. They have heat, air conditioning, electricity, so everything that someone needs to stay warm and dry in the wintertime. The shelters are insulated, and we’ve tested them to withstand negative 40 degrees.”

“We are making sure there is power hooked up for each unit. There will be 30 units, one person per unit,” added Mohelnitzky.

Bills says Pallet was founded about five years ago. Since then, Bills says the company built 55 shelter villages across the country, which equates to about 3,000 individual shelters. Bills says the shelters come in seven-panel pieces and include some finishing materials. They are built on custom wood pallets and can be easily deconstructed and stored.

Right now, there are about 70 people experiencing homelessness living in tents at Reindahl Park on Madison’s east side. The City of Madison is hoping to move nearly half of them to the new village on Dairy Drive in mid-November.

“The park is just not equipped to handle the numbers of people there,” said Jim O’Keefe, the Community Development Director with the City of Madison. “It (Dairy Drive) will be a structured and managed site, unlike Reindahl, which is neither.” O’Keefe says the total cost to prep the site and to purchase the shelters is between $800,000 and $900,000. Once the site is ready, it will cost the city about $70,000 a month to run. Most of the cost will go toward paying on-site staff.

The Dairy Drive site will have a building near the front of the property containing six toilets, six showers, and offices for staff to use. The site is not meant for people to live there long-term, but rather as a stepping stone from homelessness to permanent housing.

“This model serves as a great way for people to come in, move off the streets, find a place to stay that is safe and dignified and move on to permanent housing,” said Bills.

Crews are now in a race against time to get the site up and running before winter.

“We want to make sure we are getting people in these units before it gets too cold,” said Mohelnitzky.

The City of Madison is working on acquiring another site similar to the one on Dairy Drive so they can shut down the encampment at Reindahl Park for good. Pallet delivered the shelters on Sunday, intending to complete the construction of all 30 by Tuesday.

From there, it is a matter of getting all the electricity and water working. The goal for the city is to have people moving into the shelters by the middle of November.

Each shelter will house one person, with two shelters given to couples who arrive at the site. Mohelnitzky says the site is only equipped for adults and will not accept children. The village will also be staffed 24/7 once people arrive at the site.

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