Milwaukee aldermen ask Marquette to open City Center Hotel to homeless, university officials, student groups respond

In+a+press+conference+held+today+to+address+homelessness%2C%C2%A0two+aldermen+called+on+Marquette+to+open+the+vacant+Ramada+City+Center+Hotel+for+the+homeless+this+winter.+
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Milwaukee aldermen ask Marquette to open City Center Hotel to homeless, university officials, student groups respond

In a press conference held today to address homelessness, two aldermen called on Marquette to open the vacant Ramada City Center Hotel for the homeless this winter.

In a press conference held today to address homelessness, two aldermen called on Marquette to open the vacant Ramada City Center Hotel for the homeless this winter.

Photo by Jordan Johnson

In a press conference held today to address homelessness, two aldermen called on Marquette to open the vacant Ramada City Center Hotel for the homeless this winter.

Photo by Jordan Johnson

Photo by Jordan Johnson

In a press conference held today to address homelessness, two aldermen called on Marquette to open the vacant Ramada City Center Hotel for the homeless this winter.

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In a news conference held last Tuesday to address homelessness in Milwaukee, Aldermen Bob Donovan and Mark Borkowski called upon Marquette University to open the newly purchased, vacant Ramada City Center Hotel for the homeless this winter. The hotel is located at the intersection of 6th St. and W Michigan Ave.

In an email from university spokesperson Chris Stolarski, Marquette issued a statement in response saying that while the university is both compassionate and sympathetic to individuals who experience homelessness, Marquette is not in a position to use its facilities — vacant or otherwise — to house nonresidents and assume the significant, complex responsibilities that come with operating a shelter.

Donovan referenced the homeless tent city located on 6th and Clybourn Streets under the interstate overpass located near the hotel.

Donovan, who is chair of the Public Safety and Health Committee, announced an effort in the press conference to involve the private sector to help address the needs of homeless people. The alderman also scheduled a special meeting of the Public Safety and Health Committee next week at City Hall to address the issue.

“Marquette is actively engaged in a variety of homeless outreach programs,” Marquette’s statement said, citing Project Homeless Connect and Midnight Run. “In addition, Marquette works with the Milwaukee County Housing Division and its Housing First initiative, which includes the District Attorney’s Office and the Milwaukee Police Department, to find permanent housing solutions for the homeless.”

Midnight Run, which does not involve actual running, is a volunteer service program created in 1988 by students which focuses on the particular needs of the hungry and homeless people living in the community around Marquette. This program is organized by a coordinating team of Marquette students under the supervision of Campus Ministry. Volunteers serve in area meal programs and shelters, according to Midnight Run’s website.

Project Homeless Connect is run through United Way and helps provide essential services to homeless individuals.

Students have responded in a variety of ways, including a petition supporting the aldermen’s proposition. The petition has 307 signatures, and its description said Marquette should help those in need as a Jesuit institution.

“This is to tell President Lovell that he is making a mistake and should use the empty Ramada to house the homeless people who will not have access to warming shelters this cold winter season,” the petition description read. “Where is the heart and caring Jesuits always seem to have and now suddenly do not have? Tell President Lovell and Marquette University they need to open their doors to the less fortunate!”

Marquette University Student Government originally planned to write a letter urging the university to open the hotel for the homeless, but now instead plans to meet with university officials this week and draft a recommendation encouraging the university to develop a long-term plan for helping Milwaukee’s overall goal of ending chronic homelessness.

“When we initially were discussing it as an organization, we heard a lot of student voices saying that they wanted the university to open up the hotel,” MUSG president Meredith Gillespie said.

She said students are unfamiliar with what the university is doing as a whole to combat homelessness. She said this is an opportunity to learn more and continue conversations, adding that students want to know what the university is doing to help the homeless outside of student organizations. An MUSG recommendation could encourage university to be more transparent about those efforts, Gillespie said.

MUSG legislative vice president Dan Brophy said that after having conversations with individuals who understand what would go into the decision, including students involved with Midnight Run, it makes sense why Marquette responded the way it did.

“It’s also important to remember that this was kind of thrust on the university on the last minute when everyone was leaving for break, President Lovell was traveling and the university public relations people weren’t aware that the press conference would be happening,” Brophy said. “It’s fair that (MUSG) give the university some time to gather themselves and come up with what their actual plan would be.

MUSG stepped back from their end. “It’s important that we work with them to develop this plan and not just assume they’re taking this position because they don’t want to help individuals experiencing homelessness,” Brophy said.

In response to student voices, Stolarski said the university will continue to promote the dignity of each individual and prioritize care for the underserved in the community.

“To that end, Marquette is committed to a longer-term, coordinated solution to most effectively meet the immediate needs of individuals experiencing homelessness in Milwaukee, and ultimately address the underlying causes of this systemic issue,” Stolarski said in an email.

Stolarski said MUSG is no longer asking the university to open the hotel, but is seeking clarity about the university’s engagement broadly on local homelessness. MUSG will be partnering with Midnight Run to offer additional solutions, Stolarski said. Neither party offered specific plans for partnerships or resolutions.

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