Bills with support for the homeless were passed in the Wisconsin Assembly have support from Gov. Evers, but the Senate president has yet to confirm it will be heard in the November session.
Director of the Wisconsin Department of Administration Interagency Council on Homelessness Michael Basford explained the bills include extensive funding for programs aimed at preventing homelessness and creating more supports for those experiencing homelessness, such as case management program services.
Basford said while $3.75 million may seem like a lot, it is not much compared to what other states are doing.
“It’s couch cushion change when you compare it to what Minnesota does,” Basford said. “I mean, the city of Austin, Texas is going to spend $65 million.”
In January 2018, it was estimated that Wisconsin had 4,907 individuals experiencing homelessness. Basford felt many have a misunderstanding of what would lead those individuals to fall into homelessness, which was echoed by Wisconsin Coalition Against Homelessness Executive Director Joseph Volk.
Basford and Volk expressed there are many circumstances in a person’s life that might result in homelessness.
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Basford said in his experience he has seen homelessness as the result of health issues, most commonly the result of mental health issues. Basford also expressed hope that people’s attitudes surrounding homelessness would change.
“I want [people] to be regarding homeless people as not folks who just made mistakes in life and that this is an acceptable part of our society,” Basford said. “Nobody should accept that.”
Volk extended similar ideas by explaining how the path to homelessness is easy to wind up on, and in many cases, does not take long to happen.
Volk said a situation could be as simple as someone having to choose between funding a vehicle repair, groceries or rent.
“Many of us are only a few last paychecks from being in the situation of not knowing where we’re going to stay,” Volk said.
The state legislature has one floor period left this year —November 5 through 14. This will be the final opportunity for the bills containing homelessness support to be sent to Gov. Evers to be signed into law, which Volk said the governor has already expressed support for.
Basford expressed frustrations with the current situation, as Republicans in the state assembly included funding suggestions from Hand and a Home, a statewide action plan put together by the Walker administration, as well as suggestions made by the former governor’s budget himself.
Then, before the bill was passed in the assembly, it was amended to include a provision that took the money out of the budget and would allow the Department of Administration to request the funds from joint finance. Basford explained if the Republican ideas had been left in the budget, he thinks it likely he would have access to the funds right now and would be allocating it to where it is needed.
“I’m a political person, right,” Basford said. “I understand there are games that have to be played. I’m just amazed that this is a field that we’re choosing to be playing these games.”
Basford and Volk both worry about the bills passing so late in the year, or not being passed at all, as temperatures will soon be dropping as winter approaches. Basford said he would want to get the funds moving before winter hits, but did not feel optimistic.
“We’re a good month away from when the snow starts flying,” Basford said.
A prevention guide from the CDC explains hypothermia can set in not only at freezing temperatures, but also cool ones, which are considered to be above 40 degrees Fahrenheit.
Just this year, Wisconsin and the rest of the Midwest experienced a ‘polar vortex,’ which pushed wind chill temperatures to -40 degrees Fahrenheit.
“Well, obviously, we all live in Wisconsin,” Volk said. “We know how cold Wisconsin gets. For homeless people, and what has to be kept in mind is that nearly half of the homeless people in Wisconsin are actually young children who are homeless along with their parents, living outside in Wisconsin during the winter can be life threatening, if not ending. It’s imperative that these resources get out to the various Wisconsin communities as soon as possible.”