By Ana Martinez-Ortiz
In June 2017, the Homeless Management Information System (HMIS) released a report chronicling the number of individuals and families who were considered homeless in Wisconsin. According to the report, 55% of single adults utilized HMIS projects in 2016 and 41% of those seeking assistance were families.
The report also examined and collected data pertaining to the number of homeless veterans, approximately 11% and how many people experience chronic homelessness, “an estimated 7%.”
Unsurprisingly, Milwaukee given its overall population has one of the highest amounts of homeless persons in the state.
The information and therefore numbers researched in the report were based on the amount of “clients” served by HMIS, and the actual number of homeless people in Wisconsin is likely much higher. Services provided by HMIS include various forms of shelter and emergency shelter.
The numbers are devastating and one group, the Wisconsin Coalition Against Homelessness (WCAH) wrote a discussion or policy paper offering a plan to help homeless people under the name Wisconsin Hope Act.
The WCAH was established approximately two and a half years ago, according to WCAH spokesperson and advocate, Joe Volk.
“I’ve been involved in the issue for some 25 years,” Volk said.
And after all that time, this is the first time, Volk noted the issues of homelessness is being discussed on a state level. According to Volk, this is in part thanks to the efforts of WCAH.
The Wisconsin Hope Act is the most recent idea that the WCAH has introduced. The paper begins by saying that the current homelessness prevention model isn’t doing enough.
“Enhancing supportive services, utilizing a rapid re-housing approach, or promoting the Housing First model may bring about time-limited success, but in the end, individuals and families often, due to a variety of factors, becoming homeless again,” the paper states.
While the paper hails, services’ abilities to provide immediate shelter, it argues the need for a service “to have a tie that binds the whole approach together, and that tie is employment.”
In the past, according to the paper, preventive homeless strategies often do not include employment due to a variety of reasons. One reason was the focus spent on the chronically homeless. WCAH, however, is offering a plan that will offer shelter, supportive services and incorporate employment opportunities.
The paper suggests that given the number of employment vacancies in Wisconsin and the number of homeless people in Wisconsin, if the two integrated, there could be a joint solution: fill the vacancies with individuals who are homeless which provides them with an income.
Although the paper does not get in specifics Volk said, “Now was the time to move forward.”
He hopes that by starting the discussion and garnering support, a more comprehensive plan will be hammered out.