By Ana Martinez-Ortiz
As a child, Milwaukee County Executive David Crowley was evicted from his home several times. Evictions are hard on anybody but are especially hard on children, who may not understand what is happening.
“It’s important to remember how detrimental an eviction can be for families,” Crowley said. “Often it’s not just a singular event but instead starts a snowball of negative events that can lead to family homelessness and to other poor outcomes.”
Crowley shared his experience with eviction during a press conference commemorating the launch of EvictionFreeMKE Right to Counsel space on Thursday, Oct. 14.
EvictionFreeMKE Right to Counsel space is located at Legal Aid Society, 728 N. James Lovell St.
EvictionFreeMKE is a pilot-program that was funded by Milwaukee County, the City of Milwaukee and United Way of Greater Milwaukee & Waukesha County. It provides legal representation to county residents experiencing eviction who fall under the 200% of federal poverty guidelines.
“Our goal is simple really,” Colleen Foley, executive director Legal Aid Society of Milwaukee, said. “And that is to even the playing field and change the landscape of evictions laid bare by Matthew Desmond in the book ‘Evicted.’
Together we will change that narrative for our city and make it a healthier, more safe community for all.”
Sen. Tammy Baldwin, who spoke during the press conference, noted that in Milwaukee County, less than 3% of tenants have legal representation in court when facing eviction whereas over 50% of landlords have legal representation.
“Representation is often the difference between health and homelessness for so many families,” she said. “When someone has counsel in eviction court, they are 90% more likely to get the case dismissed or at least delayed.”
When that happens, families can stay in their homes and get the help they need, Baldwin said.
Amy Lindner is the president and CEO of United Way of Greater Milwaukee & Waukesha County. In 2019, United Way set a goal to end family homelessness in its region by 2025, Lindner said. So much has happened in that time, she noted, and people and organizations really came together.
Thanks to collaboration, United Way is two years ahead of its goal, she said, and is on track to end family homelessness by 2023.
“Housing security is a key determinant of health for Milwaukee County residents,” Crowley said. “When you can’t count on having a roof over your head at night, it brings around more stress, more anxiety and contributes mightily to the poor health disparities that we see throughout our Milwaukee County.”
In addition to free legal counsel, families facing eviction will be able to use “Evi,” a navigation tool designed to connect individuals to eviction support and prevention resources, Foley said. It is an extension of United Way’s Safe and Stable Homes Initiative.
“When someone has an attorney upfront when they’re facing an eviction, they’re educated about their rights and obligations and that will serve them for the crisis at hand but also for the long run so that they’re better equipped to deal with issues that come at them and their family,” Foley said.
Common Council President Cavalier Johnson also spoke during the press conference.
Baldwin added, “This pandemic made it clear that we need to continue the push for reform and ensure housing security for all Americans. Right to Counsel will make sure families facing eviction know their options and have legal representation at their side and are treated with the dignity and respect they deserve.”