Exploring the trends of treating homelessness in Wisconsin and across the U.S.
Statewide, nationwide issue

Exploring the trends of treating homelessness in Wisconsin and across the U.S.

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Homeless in Racine (copy)

Best practices and efforts to address homelessness continue to evolve. Below is a list of responses in an effort to make homelessness rare, brief and non-recurring, and highlights of actions at the local and state levels.

Emergency shelter

Short-term, nightly shelter. Supportive services may or may not be provided. The number of total days allowed often is capped.

  • The state provides funding through nearly 80 programs for emergency shelter and hotel vouchers, and funds 10 agencies for case management services at shelters. Bills before the state Senate would let the Department of Administration seek more funds from the Legislature’s budget committee for the state shelter subsidy and homeless case management services programs.

Diversion from shelter

An approach rather than a program with the intent of helping households on the verge of homelessness find an alternative to emergency shelter. It requires a commitment to the approach, even if there is shelter space and a problem-solving conversation with the household to explore its own options and resources to avoid shelter.

  • Currently, the state funds no diversion programs, but the new action plan to end homelessness calls for a start to such programming. A bill before the state Senate would let the Department of Administration seek funding from the Legislature’s budget committee to create such a program.

Housing First

An approach in which homeless people are given immediate access to housing without prerequisites like sobriety or a willingness to participate in services. It typically is designed for people with complex needs and who are the least likely to be able to proactively seek and obtain housing on their own.

  • The Wisconsin Interagency Council on Homelessness, created in 2017, adheres to a Housing First approach. Some strategies may be slightly adjusted for programs to house certain homeless sub-populations, but practices are guided by general principles of low-barrier housing.
  • Housing First is the approach most advanced upon by Racine County’s Continuum of Care, otherwise known as the Homelessness and Housing Alliance of Racine County.

Transitional housing

An interim step between emergency shelter and permanent housing for households with significant barriers to housing. It helps homeless people overcome trauma, regain stability and rebuild their support networks within 24 months. Services can include case management and rent assistance.

  • The federal government no longer prioritizes transitional housing as a solution. Its use has been on the wane in the state after the approach fell out of favor at the national level. Without federal funding, it was felt a small amount of state funding could be better used elsewhere.

Rapid re-housing

A temporary program for homeless people who have lived independently before and do not need permanent supports. It seeks a quick turnaround, emphasizing housing search and relocation services and short- and medium-term rental assistance. Some participants have disabilities but most do not.

  • Efforts are on the rise in Wisconsin because it’s clear this is what the federal government wants. It works well for those whose homelessness is caused by an unexpected financial event. Rapid re-housing has seen increased funding primarily through the housing assistance program.

Permanent supportive housing

Assistance for people with the most complex challenges and most severe service needs. It targets people with chronic impairments and supports them on a permanent basis, with indefinite leasing or rental assistance.

The state sees the approach as the gold standard of strategies to end homelessness, but the volume of units produced in Wisconsin falls far short of need. The Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority is aggressive in allocating federal low-income housing tax credits, but the state has few other resources to assist in developing this kind of housing.


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