Wisconsin Rep. Chris Taylor, D-Madison, is addressing the rising number of homeless youth in Madison by pressuring the state to adapt measures that would better provide for those in need.
Taylor, who represents the 48th district in the Wisconsin State Assembly, said in a statement Madison does not do enough to provide support for homeless youth.
According to the statement, her proposals focus on opening a homeless shelter specifically for young people and extending the length of time children can stay at a shelter from the current 14 days to 28.
In the statement, Taylor said she hopes her proposals will be able to combat and prevent the trauma and difficulty of being a homeless child.
Madison Metropolitan School District’s Transition Education Program resource teacher Jani Koester works to support homeless children and teens in schools and said she strongly supports Taylor’s measures.
“We live in a caring community but we’re still not taking care of some of our most vulnerable youth,” Koester said.
While explaining the importance of ensuring a stable environment for kids, Koester said a Loyola study found it takes between four and six months for a child to recover academic progress after he or she switches schools.
Koester said she believes the state also needs to come up with more long-term solutions to youth homelessness.
She said the next step is finding a place for homeless youth to stay long-term in order to create more consistency in a child’s life, which is difficult to provide at a shelter.
Lost work, foreclosures and evictions, caused by the current economic situation, have led to an increase in homeless young people, Koester said.
Koester said her program, which began 24 years ago, used to handle hundreds of cases of homeless children each year. Now that number is in the thousands, she said.
Another reason for the increase in cases is simply that people are more aware and know what resources are out there, said Koester.
Communications director for the Wisconsin Council for Children and Families, Inc., Bob Jacobson, who also supports Taylor’s proposals, said 14 days is not enough time to get youth the services they need.
“Expanding the limit to a full month would make a huge difference to help them get into a more stable situation,” he said.
Jacobson said Taylor’s proposals will not solve all the issues facing homeless kids, and its root cause, poverty.
“There are a whole lot of interrelated issues that go into preventing a kid from ending up in a shelter,” Jacobson said.
Fixing the root of the problem starts with getting people access to education and job training so kids don’t have to grow up in poverty, Jacobson said.
Jacobson said getting everyone access to healthcare and supporting Wisconsin Shares, a program helping parents pay for childcare to provide more ways to help prevent homeless children.