By Lindsey Hill
Catholic Charities Grants Specialist
Catholic Charities of Madison is proud to celebrate the fifth anniversary of The Beacon this fall.
What started as a vision to help address the growing needs of those experiencing homelessness in our community is now an institution in downtown Madison, recognized for its incredible impact and commitment to giving people a hand up on their journey out of homelessness.
Recognizing the dire need for homelessness intervention services, Dane County invited Catholic Charities to put together a proposal for a day resource center. Catholic Charities leadership embarked on a learning journey, touring shelters and facilities across the country to better understand how the organization could help in our own backyard.
The Beacon was born a short time later, opening its doors on Oct. 16, 2017. Located on East Washington Avenue in the heart of downtown Madison, The Beacon serves more than 125 people per day. As a day resource center, it provides an abundance of resources to help people achieve stability. These offerings include breakfast, lunch, mailboxes, showers, laundry service, and a computer lab.
Most impressive is the roster of partner organizations that provide services directly at The Beacon. There are 26 organizations which offer assistance for health and wellness, insurance, legal resources, and substance use disorder.
This model of bringing partner agencies together at a central location sets The Beacon apart from other day shelters, making it safer and easier for guests to identify and access the tools that can help them gain stability.
Kimberly Tesch is the program director of The Beacon and joined Catholic Charities’ staff in July 2018, less than a year after The Beacon opened. She explained that most people who access The Beacon are experiencing multiple barriers to stable housing, ranging from criminal records and eviction records to poverty and undiagnosed mental health issues. She also noted that the emotional support component of The Beacon’s services is often overlooked, but is just as important as the access to basic needs services and community supports.
“This is something a lot of guests are missing in their lives, someone to listen to, talk to,” Tesch said. “I think our biggest asset is being a bridge between the guests and the resources and then being an emotional support as they move along their journey.”
Catholic Charities’ own Housing Navigation service is also situated at The Beacon. This service uses a combination of advocacy, information and referral to community organizations, and emergency funding to help individuals secure housing and get connected to other resources.
Emily Faeth, the program manager for Housing Navigation services, said Madison’s extremely low vacancy rate – 2% of rental properties are vacant at any given time – underscores the critical need for the program.
“There isn’t enough affordable housing for folks,” Faeth said. “Affordable housing is a bit of a misnomer because we have a lot of high earners in the county, so the affordable housing rate is skewed.”
Faeth said this leads to high competition for rental properties, which contributes to homelessness, especially for those in poverty or with eviction records.
There are countless success stories from those who have been helped by The Beacon. Tesch recounted the story of one guest who frequented The Beacon for two to three years. He was struggling with substance use and eventually decided he was ready to get sober. The Beacon connected him to a detox program, and he went to 5 Door Recovery (another Catholic Charities program). He has now been sober and housed for a year and checks in with The Beacon from time to time to let the staff know how well he is doing.
The Beacon has offered compassionate services to those experiencing homelessness for five years, living up to its name as a light in times of darkness and a source of hope for those in need. While Catholic Charities hopes that there will be a time when this service is no longer needed and everyone is safely and sustainably housed, we are honored to serve those experiencing homelessness. With your support, The Beacon will continue to eliminate barriers to stable housing and advocate for our neighbors in need for the next five years and beyond.