Dane County housing homeless families in local hotels amid COVID-19 outbreak

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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV)-- Dane County kicked off an effort Thursday to work with local hotels to house homeless people who are at-risk for COVID-19.

County Executive Joe Parisi said in a release that the county has secured 72 hotels rooms across the county so far.

The rooms will be used specifically for families experiencing homelessness who may be living in a homeless shelter right now.

Parisi told NBC15 News, "This has been one of our core priorities since this began to unfold, to identify folks who are vulnerable, to identify options. Today we’re able to be moving folks out of this system, while we still look at acquiring additional space."

Dane County is spending over $150,000 for the rooms and to provide meals for the families. Move-ins start Thursday. Businesses interested in helping out can email EmergencyManagement@countyofdane.com.

At the Salvation Army of Dane County, which offers an overnight shelter, executive director of social services Melissa Sorensen said the move is already freeing up space. "We had about 130 people in one building, so it was very hard to practice social distancing. Now, we have relocated more than half of that population and are able to spread people out."

Austin Scofield is currently experiencing homelessness. He said while he's trying to practice social distancing, he first wants to go inside a shelter.

"It’s better to have somewhere to go than to sit out here in this rain and be miserable," Scofield said.

He added, "It’s always nice to be able to have those people that are willing to give an extra hand. I’m very appreciative of it."

The county is also seeking more partnerships with hotels, especially if they are located near a major bus line and are centrally located. Ideal hotel rooms will have microwaves, fridges and other amenities.

Meanwhile, The Salvation Army will temporarily relocate over 20 families staying in their shelter. Dane County says this will reduce the number of guests at The Beacon homeless resource center during the day, and help increase social distancing there until an alternative shelter can be found.

Dane County has also secured $12,000 in extra funding for The Salvation Army’s case management program to help single women and families.