By Ariele Vaccaro
As summer heat falls heavily over Milwaukee, the city’s homeless may struggle to find cool shelter from the sun.
This past Tuesday, city and county officials announced a plan to join forces in order to end chronic homelessness in Milwaukee in three years.
According to a statement from the office of Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele, chronically homeless individual has been without a home for a year or more or has been homeless on at least four occasions over the past three years with a disability.
With the help of a number of non-profits and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Milwaukee city and county will launch a Housing First initiative, through which homeless individuals can obtain permanent housing and case management.
A press conference unveiling the program took place at the site of the new Thurgood Marshall Apartments. By next year, they will contain 24 permanent housing units for chronically homeless individuals.
Abele spoke at the conference, emphasizing the word “empowerment”, and noting that the new initiative is does not follow a “shelter model”.
Rather, the Housing First model will include not only permanent housing, but rent assistance, social services, and alcoholism and mental health services.
The Co. Executive argued that the likelihood of an individual becoming independent through a permanent housing program is positive.
“If that isn’t the goal, we’re looking at the wrong goal,” said Abele.
According to Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, efforts to end homelessness have come in the form of social services and temporary housing.
“It’s been noble,” said Barrett. Over the past several years, however, federal entities have suggested offering permanent housing to homeless individuals.
According to Barrett, the city will contribute $960,000 to the program for this year.
Community development block grants will account for another $600,000.
The Housing Authority will add $360,000, for a total of about $1.9 million in funding for the year.
The program will serve approximately 300 people in that time.
Pat Schroeder, Division Administrator for Behavioral Health, has contributed $600,000 dollars toward the program already. According to Director of Health and Human Services Héctor Colón, she will continue to put forth funding.
“It is not a one-size fits all support,” said Antonio Riley, Midwest Regional Administrator at HUD, noting that only people in true need of permanent shelter will be offered it.
“We cannot afford not to end chronic homelessness,” Riley added, referencing the some $30,000 to $50,000 that one individual might cost the community in emergency room visits and incarceration.
Mark Hilton was once a homeless Milwaukee citizen struggling with addiction.
Now, he’s Lead Resident Assistant at Milwaukee County’s Pathways to Permanent Housing program.
He said that under temporary housing, where individuals are likely to go from shelter to shelter, case managers struggle to keep track of their clients and administer services effectively.
Through Housing First, homeless individuals will have the stability required to learn basic independence skills, like grocery shopping and paying bills – small things that Hilton said some “take for granted”.
And not everyone is the same.
“Some people just need a little help. They just need to be guided through those rough waters,” said Hilton. Whether someone needs a little assistance or a lot, Hilton thinks the initiative will be able to offer them one invaluable thing that most of us can get behind.
“A lot of people are going to get that second chance that I had.”