Despite facing backlash from Democrat lawmakers for inadequately addressing homelessness, the Wisconsin Legislative Assembly passed a series of Republican bills offering housing, employment and support for the homeless Tuesday.
The bills, introduced in March, would create new programs to help homeless people receive housing and permanent employment. They would also establish a new state group that will help better address homelessness issues.
Rep. Jessie Rodriguez, R-Oak Creek, spoke about one bill that would create a grant program that allows the Wisconsin Department of Administration to give $75,000 to a municipality in effort help connect homeless people with permanent employment.
“The purpose of the pilot program is to help individuals who are homeless gain job skills and pair them with services that may be needed for them,” Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez said the municipality would have to match $50,000 for the program to qualify for the grant. The municipality would also have to team up with a nonprofit organization to be eligible for the grant.
The program is modeled after the “There’s a Better Way” initiative in Albuquerque, New Mexico, which helps connect homeless people with jobs, Rodriguez said.
“We want to see if it works here in the state of Wisconsin and that would give us enough flexibility to see how it functions here in Wisconsin and to be able to make any changes down the road,” Rodriguez said.
Rep. Patrick Snyder, R-Schofield, talked about changing the way grants are used to better help homeless people, which is part of the focus of another bill discussed Tuesday.
This bill would take funding that normally only goes toward transitional housing for homeless people and make it available to sources like Rapid Rehousing and Housing First to offer more permanent solutions to the homeless’ housing demands, Snyder said.
“It means getting some families or individuals out of the shelters, off the streets and into housing so they can start the base, begin the foundation of getting employed and getting themselves economically up the ladder to get that independence they need, ” Snyder said.
To help address a potential lack of communication on homelessness issues, Rep. Jim Steineke, R-Kaukauna, discussed another bill that would create an new interagency council on homelessness.
Eight state agencies that receive state or federal money to help deal with homelessness did not have a way to easily talk with each other, Steineke said. The new council will help those agencies lay out a long-term plan to help address homelessness.
“Last summer when the caucus as a whole sat down and talked about what our priorities were for the upcoming session, homelessness became clear it was a shared priority of everyone,” Steineke said.
But while these bills aim to help address the homelessness problem in Wisconsin, Democrat legislators like Rep. Melissa Sargent, D-Madison, believe they are not enough.
“It’s appalling that these cosmetic solutions are the best Republicans can muster to address Wisconsin’s homelessness epidemic,” Sargent said in a statement. “What are we supposed to say to a high schooler who doesn’t have a home to go to tonight? ‘Don’t worry, Wisconsin has a Council on this now?'”
Rep. Lisa Subeck, D-Madison, said in a statement that the three bills fail to offer evidence-based solutions. She said Democrats will introduce bills that would provide actual resources such as affordable housing, increases in wages and economic security.
Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, said he is hopeful this agency will help ensure homeless people are connected to jobs so they can support themselves and their families.
The bills now head to the Senate.