State News

Assembly Committee considers bills to combat statewide homelessness

Four Republican bills were introduced last week to help homeless Wisconsinites get off the streets and into stable, safe housing.

Image By: Amileah Sutliff

With over 5,000 residents throughout Wisconsin having an unstable living arrangement every night, a committee in the Legislature considered a series of bills that address homelessness at a hearing Tuesday.

The Assembly Committee on Public Benefit Reform discussed a package of Republican bills introduced last week that were initially criticized by Democrats as being a “cosmetic solution” that would not provide any real improvements for families currently living on the streets.

State Rep. Lisa Subeck, D-Madison, told Wisconsin Public Radio that the bills were simply a “Band-aid” solution to Wisconsin’s homelessness problem.

Advocates praised the package of bills Tuesday for finally addressing the homelessness crisis that has been present in Wisconsin for many years.

A formerly homeless UW-Madison student, Brooke Evans, says that she is incredibly grateful for what has been put forward in the bills.

“I expect representatives in the assembly on the left leaning side of the aisle to go ahead and work with this,” Evans said. “As a homeless person in Wisconsin I would need my representatives to work across the aisle.”

Evans spoke of her experience coming to UW-Madison as a homeless person, and the misconception that often surrounds homelessness.

“The culture around being homeless was super narrow. It meant that you were deviant, disabled, dishonest, deceptive or deficient in some capacity.” Evans said.

Joe Volk, executive director of the Wisconsin Coalition Against Homelessness, said at a news conference he feels these bills are addressing an issue that has often been overlooked.

"I’ve been involved in this issue for 35 years. I can tell you this is the first time in 25 years that this issue has been talked about in this building," Volk said.

Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, who authored the four-bill package, said in a news release that the bills are focused on increasing flexibility to address homelessness and collaboration between agencies.

One of the bills proposed would create an inter-agency council, chaired by Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, to review and update statewide policies to better coordinate efforts to fight homelessness.

The package also includes initiatives that would create a grant program that would provide homeless people with permanent jobs and workforce training. It would prioritize help for chronically homeless people who are on the waitlist for the federal Housing Choice Voucher Program which provides safe and sanitary housing for low-income families, disabled and the elderly.

The bills also propose a reform that would streamline housing grants to ensure money is spent efficiently and where it is needed the most.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development counted 6,057 homeless people in Wisconsin in 2015. A disproportionately high number of these homeless people lived in two counties with 1,521 in Milwaukee County and 771 in Dane County.

According to the Institute for Community Alliances, nearly 27,000 people received homeless services in Wisconsin in 2016.

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