By State Representative, Leon D. Young
A funny thing happened in Madison this week. Several Republican legislators held a press conference to unveil a proposal that aims to end homelessness in Wisconsin. That’s right … you heard me! But, here’s the rub, these Republicans that this Herculean task, of arresting homelessness in our state, can be accomplished solely through employment efforts.
The bill creates a pilot program through the Department of Administration to provide funding for a community program connecting homeless adults with permanent employment. Participating municipalities would be required to add financial support to be eligible for the program.
The legislation is part of a broader package of bills that focus on combating homelessness throughout Wisconsin; an issue that Republicans have miraculously just discovered.
More specifically, this proposal, that was introduced by Rep. Jessie Rodrigues (R Franklin) and Senator Alberta Darling (R-River Hills) is modeled after Albuquerque’s “There’s a Better Way” initiative that provides homeless individuals with work experience and work routine through jobs. This all sounds well and good on its face. But, a closer examination reveals a different story.
The very work experience that these Republicans are so excited about and actively promotes leaves much to be desired. Under the bill, the work requires cleaning up municipal parks and public spaces. Personally, I find this approach troubling for two reasons – at the bare minimum. First, the “skills” that one would acquire cleaning up parks and municipal spaces is a skill set that’s not very marketable. And second, the rate of pay for this kind of menial labor is quite nominal. Likely, these individuals would still be unable to meet their own economic needs, much less being able to support a family. Under this proposal, these individuals (at best!) would become the new faces of the working poor and would have limited economic options.
The very notion that Republicans have suddenly found religion and are genuinely concerned about the plight of the homeless is hard to believe. Not to mention that many of the public policy prescriptions that Republicans have advanced have exacerbated the problem for the most vulnerable residents in this state, which includes the homeless population. In my opinion, this new package of homeless bills is merely much to do about nothing.
If the GOP was really interested in addressing this problem, then education and training would be key components of this legislation. Rather than some back-door attempt to get individuals working for nothing and dropping them from public assistance.