Living in shelters, outdoors, or in their cars, between 70 and 100 Dane County families are homeless any day of the week. Far more local families are at risk of becoming homeless while doubling up with family or friends. Schools and service agencies report that most of these fragile families consist of a single custodial adult (mom, dad, aunt, grandparent, etc.) raising minor-aged children.
Rachel and her children, Marcus and Marina, are one of these families. They were staying with Rachel’s cousin and two kids for several months before it became too crowded and the landlord threatened to evict them for violating the lease.
Rachel connected with YWCA Madison, which helps doubled-up families find permanent housing. But once in her new apartment, there was still a good chance Rachel’s family would fall back into homelessness without additional support.
Placing homeless and at-risk families in housing is not enough. National data on housing with long-term supportive services overwhelmingly shows greater housing stability, improved enrollment in early education, and better child welfare outcomes.
Local nonprofit housing providers, YWCA Madison and Catholic Charities of Madison, receive funding to place families in housing. But this funding does not cover ongoing help that keeps families in their new homes. Without supportive services to address challenges with transportation, mental health, financial literacy, employment, childcare, parenting skills, addiction recovery, and health care, families are likely to return to homelessness.
This is where you and St. Vincent de Paul — Madison’s new St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Program step in.
The Seton Program was created in the fall of 2022 to fill this glaring gap and help fragile families on the path to stability.
The Seton Program provides wrap-around, flexible, individualized supportive services to newly housed single adult families. Seton Program staff and volunteers accompany families to work on issues negatively impacting their well-being and help them create manageable goals that bring stability, prevent future homelessness, and help them thrive.
Up to 20 families will be enrolled in the Seton Program in its first year, with the capacity to grow over time. Support is provided with no term limit; however, a two-year enrollment is expected.
Getting help to thrive
In Rachel’s case, the help she receives through the Seton Program goes beyond material necessities. It’s a chance to connect with a trusted person and receive encouragement to push through challenges. Emotional support and accompaniment means she’s not alone during this stressful point in life.
Seton Program Director and social worker, Priscilla Lentini, is that trusted person.
“I tell people, ‘You’re not a mess. You’re going through a lot of challenges right now. And you have a lot of strengths that you’re bringing to the issues you’re facing,” Priscilla said. “Their attitude flips to, ‘I can do this. I have the capability to face what I’m going through right now.’ Sometimes you just need to hear it from someone else to believe that you’re not your issues.”
You have made the St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Program possible. With you, Rachel’s life, and those of her children are changing for the better.
“The Seton Program complements existing efforts from SVdP Madison such as the food pantry and pharmacy that address the immediate needs of our neighbors,” Susanna Herro, Board Secretary, said. So many of us care deeply about our brothers and sisters in need and are eager to walk alongside them on a path of greater stability. This program makes that possible.”
To effectively and efficiently support fragile families, a central program space is under construction where families can meet with Priscilla, mental health, and human service professionals, search for job opportunities, identify affordable child care, and access additional resources.
The Seton Program will be housed above the St. Vincent de Paul Williamson Street Thrift Store, currently undergoing an extensive building redevelopment (see sidebar). Completion is expected in the fall of 2024.
Because of you, Rachel is participating in an addiction recovery peer group, has landed a job with good benefits, and is learning how to advocate for her children at school. Marcus has a tutor to help him with math and Marina is excited about art class in Pre-K. They are happy to have a place to call home where they can heal from the trauma of homelessness, and set a course to move from surviving to thriving.
Please keep Rachel and her children in your prayers. Click here to share your volunteer time or click here to make a gift to the St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Program.
* Names changed to maintain the neighbors’ privacy. Photos are representational.
On November 2nd, National Homelessness Awareness Month began. At an awareness event in the State Capitol, various speakers addressed the prevalence of homelessness in Wisconsin and the need for government, agencies and individuals to come together to find better solutions. Along with community and statewide school leaders working to end homelessness, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Program Director Priscilla Lentini worked to put on this event.
At the event, a Ribbon Tree visually represented the estimated number of people who experience homelessness in a year. Each ribbon accounted for 1,000 individuals. Here is data on youth and young adults facing homelessness in a year:
- 16,462 4K-12 students
- 16,537 young children ages 0-6
- 55,000 young adults ages 18-25
- 1,987 unaccompanied 4K-12 students (living without a caregiver/guardian)
- 26,661 runaway youth ages 12-17
The kickoff event for National Homelessness Awareness Month is at the Wisconsin State Capitol rotunda on November 2, 2022 at 11:30AM. Speakers will range from state representatives addressing the concerns of homelessness in Wisconsin to individuals speaking about their lived experience of homelessness. Through their voices and stories we can learn about ways we can make a difference in our community. This event is an opportunity to build much needed awareness of the homeless crisis in our state and local communities and we hope we can come together to find better solutions.
The November 2 kickoff event at the State Capitol will also feature a Ribbon Tree designed to showcase and measure the different types of homelessness experienced in Wisconsin.
“Young people often have innovative survival strategies that make many assume that youth homelessness does not exist. This includes sleeping with friends, strangers, engaging in survival sex, or couch-surfing across state lines. Unfortunately, our systems don’t always identify these survival strategies as homelessness,” said Rachel Litchman, member of the Youth Action Board of Dane County, who will be one of the speakers at the Nov. 2 event.
“Housing is a human right, and no person in our state deserves to struggle with the stress of finding affordable housing or experiencing homelessness. We know that safe and secure housing is essential for strong families and strong communities, yet too often are inaccessible,” said Wisconsin State Senator Melissa Agard, who will also be speaking at the event.
According to another scheduled speaker, Michael Basford, Director of the Wisconsin Interagency Council on Homelessness, “Homelessness and housing insecurity happens all over Wisconsin – regardless of area of the state and whether it’s urban, suburban, or rural areas. This is an issue that has always required an all-hands-on-deck response if we’re going to end homelessness as we know it in this state.”
Background, Plans & FAQ
The Society of St. Vincent de Paul — Madison will conduct a building project near the intersection of Williamson Street and S. Baldwin Street in Madison. The zone currently hosts the St. Vincent de Paul Williamson Street Thrift Store and the St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Program office.
The intent is to demolish two structurally compromised buildings along Baldwin Street – as well as the Williamson Street store’s book room, which shares the lot with one of those buildings. A two-story building at the Baldwin Williamson corner will be erected and a single-story building will be expanded retail space, while the new corner building’s second floor will house the St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Program, supportive services for single parents of minor children to stabilize their housing and lives.
The core mission of the District Council of Madison – Society of St. Vincent de Paul is helping Dane County neighbors in need. A nonprofit 501(c)(3) charitable organization, the Society has been engaged in that mission in Madison since 1925 and has had a physical locus in the Williamson-Marquette neighborhood since 1941, when SVdP Madison opened a store on Baldwin Street. From that location, St. Vincent de Paul’s retail and service complex grew organically around the Baldwin corner to Williamson Street to become the Society’s local flagship thrift store. The parcel at the corner of Williamson and Baldwin streets has since served as the Society’s busy food pantry and then as the office location of the Seton House women’s transitional housing program – as well the site of the adjoining Willy Street store’s book room.
The Williamson-Baldwin corner property and the original Baldwin Street portion of the thrift-store complex have clearly reached their end of life. SVdP Madison has been advised that the corner “Seton 2” building, an old balloon-frame structure, is not sound enough to salvage and remodel. Compromised wooden roof trusses of the Baldwin retail property have led the Society to empty that space and leave it unused for its usual purpose. The century-old concrete structure of the Baldwin store space is of unknown design capacity. After carefully considering options, St. Vincent de Paul is seeking to rebuild in the footprint of these two parcels. New construction designed to sensitively honor the look and feel of the local traditional shopping street and historic district will best serve the interest of safety, modern code compliance, energy efficiency, sustainability, and avoidance of unintended consequences.
These are key objectives for the future of properties SVdP Madison intends to continue using for purposes toward which the site has long been put. Those purposes are supporting and meeting the Society’s mission by selling and giving away donated goods and by offering other charitable services to local households in need. Through new, historically sensitive construction, SVdP Madison’s plan is to devote almost all first-floor space to retail and – for the corner – parcel create second-floor space focused on serving neighbors in need through SVdP Madison charitable programming.
Selected news coverage
Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce: St. Vincent de Paul — Madison announces the groundbreaking for its new building
Channel3000: (begin video at 08:30) News 3 Now at Five – March 13, 2023
The Catholic Herald: St. Vincent de Paul breaks ground on new renovations
The Cap Times: St. Vincent de Paul plans expansion on Willy Street