All it takes is a stroll down State Street to realize that homelessness is an issue in the city of Madison.

More than 3,500 people every year find themselves suffering from homelessness in Madison alone. To put that in perspective, Madison’s estimated total population totaled 248,951 as of July 1, 2015. If you run the numbers, you’ll probably find about 1.4 percent of Madison’s total population lacks a permanent place to sleep at night.

Try to imagine one of those 400 person lectures we’ve all been a part of at one point in our college careers. Nearly six of your fellow classmates sitting around you represent homeless people living in Madison.

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The 2010 census found that my hometown of Seymour, Wis. had a population of 3,451 people. In other words, the city of Madison alone holds more people who suffer from homelessness than the entire town in which I grew up.

So yes, homelessness in Madison is an issue, and yes, there are shelter programs to assist those who have fallen under unfortunate circumstances. The problem, however, is these shelter programs are lacking a little elbow room.

The masses of people on the waiting list for housing in these crowded shelters number more than 2,000. This means that the shelter programs are only able to help just over a third the people who need their assistance. And this is due to lack of space.

Now compare this to the – what feels like hundreds – emails we get from the property management companies around campus proclaiming the deals and steals they’re offering in an effort to fill their substantial amount of vacant residences. You feel me, Forward Management, Inc.?

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Imagine all the people living in adequate, stable housing instead of hoping for a spot to open in one of the shelter programs if these property management companies just offered their vacant residences to those who desperately need a place to sleep at night. It isn’t too terribly hard to do.

In fact, a few nonprofits in western Wisconsin, specifically in Eau Claire,  just won a state grant to help accomplish this very idea. The grant will be used in an effort to establish a Landlord Liaison position to work with local landlords to find affordable housing for people with criminal records or bad rental history. 

Local nonprofit agencies work with private landlords in the Madison area, but these agencies also search out various housing options to help individuals dealing with addiction or health assistance requirements rather than working exclusively with private landlords, Madison Ald. Mike Verveer, District 4, said.

The fact that western Wisconsin beat our progressive Madison in this race to better the housing situations of these people is beyond me, but I suppose we would be better to be late than never.

I mean, with the small fortune most of us pay every month to keep a roof over our head, I’m sure big property management could spare a few un-leased apartments to make room for those who would benefit from this landlord liaison program.

Furthermore, it appears that several local nonprofits know a good idea when they see one, and are going to be trying to actually establish similar landlord liaison programs here in Madison.

It definitely wouldn’t be too terrible of an idea to establish a concrete local liaison position whose duty is to specifically work with private landlords to find housing for homeless people.

It’s pretty safe to say that Eau Claire has laid out a pretty solid road towards solving the issue of homelessness, and it’s our time as a city to get the ball rolling here in Madison.

Phil Michaelson ([email protected]) is a junior majoring in biomedical engineering.