The Beacon hosts community meeting to address spike in police ca - WKOW 27: Madison, WI Breaking News, Weather and Sports

The Beacon hosts community meeting to address spike in police calls

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MADISON (WKOW) --- Madison Police said they're taking a number of different strategies to tackle a significant increase in calls to a homeless day center downtown.

The Beacon sits just off the corner of East Washington Avenue and South Blair Street. Police said there were 40 calls for service to the center in January. That number increased to 45 in February, making it the number one call generator that month.

Leaders at The Beacon have heard a number of questions and concerns, which is why they held a community meeting Wednesday night and invited Madison Police to meet with neighbors.

“The Beacon has been open for about five months now. When we applied for the job over a year ago we said that we would come back to the community about 3 or 4 times a year to provide an update,” said Jackson Fonder, president and CEO of Catholic Charities.

“The Beacon is a needed service provider. And they are servicing the most vulnerable, and many times the most challenged, populations in our community. People are struggling with drugs and alcohol, people who are homeless, people who have PTSD, they're facing a lot of challenges in life. The Beacon, their goal is to try to break some of those cycles and get people back on track,” said Capt. Jason Freedman of the Madison Police Department, who also attended the meeting.

“But I think it's good for folks to have an opportunity to come talk about what they're feeling and seeing,” he said.

The Beacon serves about 165 people each day. Fonder recognizes there have been challenges since moving from the top of State Street.

“Some disruptive behavior, loitering, littering, drug use around the neighborhood, loud noises. All the things you'd think would come with this many people in such a small space,” he said.

Fonder said there have been successes since the day shelter opened.

“The high numbers in terms of laundry, mail, and lunches. Those activities are going really well. The big pieces of that are going to be housing and jobs and connecting people to resources.”

But property owner Cliff Fisher didn't like what he heard at the meeting.

“They had a meeting, like kumbaya, let's all get together and say how great this is going. Well, people in the neighborhood don't think it's been going really great,” he said.

Fisher said his businesses next door has been plagued with problems since the shelter moved in.

“We have drug dealing going on, drinking all around here. We had to spend $20,000 on cameras and all new lighting system next door just to make my tenants feel safe.”

Freedman said the department is working with the shelter to assure neighbors and neighboring businesses that their concerns are being addressed.

“We started meeting with The Beacon over a year ago. We actually have an officer and the bulk of his day-to-day work has been with The Beacon over the last number of months. We meet with them on a regular basis. We've done work with them to try to improve internal processes to make things safer here, more calm, create codes of conduct. We've also done proactive enforcement in the area. Extra patrol in the area.”

Still, Fisher thinks the shelter should have been housed elsewhere.

“Nobody wanted this in the neighborhood. They should have dumped it out by the coliseum. There was nobody around there. We suggested that.”

Fonder said it's important to have these type of conversations and come up with a strategy on how to address the issues bothering neighbors.

This is the first community meeting this year. Fonder said they have scheduled two or three more meeting in the coming months.

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