RACINE — Ron Thomas wants businesses to be “at the table” while advocates discuss plans for addressing the community’s ongoing housing inequities.
Thomas, the president of the Housing and Homelessness Alliance of Racine County, made his pitch to the city’s Community Development Committee Thursday evening at City Hall.
When members of the Housing and Homelessness Alliance, formerly known as the Continuum of Care, meet every month, Thomas has noted that one group of people is missing: business owners.
Public officials from the city and county are generally at every meeting of the alliance; leaders of nonprofits and churches are always there; and sometimes people who are homeless or have been homeless share their stories. Meetings are open to anyone, but Thomas wants to see more people there — especially those who work and/or lead in the private sector.
Thomas said. “We need some businesses to give us some attention, funding, whatever,” Thomas said.
No notice, no dollars
One of the big issues the alliance is facing, according to Thomas, is a lack of community awareness, which indirectly contributes to a lack of funding. As money from the state and federal levels seems to continuously shrink — a trend that really gained momentum around the outset of the Great Recession — Thomas wants local efforts to become “as self-sufficient … as we can possibly be.”
“We cannot rely on the federal and state funding,” Thomas said.
“Whether it’s a Republican president or a Democratic president, this pie (of funding) seems to get smaller every year,” Mayor Cory Mason said.
In order to be successful, local donors and supporters are going to become increasingly essential.
“We need our community to understand who we are and what we’re doing,” Thomas said. “If we can get more funding through our community, then we can put that money where we really need it.”
“We need more involvement from people … to get the word out,” added Sharon Campbell, a committee member and retired educator.
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One of the crucial parts of this process, according to Teresa Reinders, a retired UW-Parkside senior lecturer, is working to find common ground with business owners and professionals in how they view homelessness.
For example, some business owners don’t want people — homeless or otherwise — hanging around on the sidewalks in front of their businesses without purpose. That’s one of the complaints leveled against patrons of the Downtown Hospitality Center, an outreach ministry located at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, 614 Main St. Those complaints led to the city reassessing the center’s operating permit and enforce new rules to keep the streets free of loiterers.
Reinders responded to this community problem by saying: “The business owners have a view of people wandering around, but social justice workers have a different view of those people, too.”
All these situations
During Thursday’s meeting, 8th District Alderman Q.A. Shakoor II posed a question regarding a specific situation in which some lose their homes.
“In a homeless prevention situation, is it because people live above their limited means? Is it because of addiction or gambling?” he asked. “Some people get the money, but they end up being homeless.”
Brendan Saunders, community development compliance specialist with Racine’s Department of City Development, responded by saying that’s one of the common problems the alliance faces. There are a fair number of people who fit the categorization Shakoor highlighted, where their own decisions quickly place them in danger of homelessness.
“It’s all part of it,” Saunders said. “There are many, many factors. All the way from drug addiction and mental illness — which is a large factor — but also inability to afford rent or loss of a job. Sometimes poor money management is a real issue.”
Alderman John Tate II of the 3rd District jumped in and mentioned a study published by Bankrate.com in 2017 that found the majority of Americans — 57 percent — don’t have enough money on hand to cover a $500 unexpected expense. Tate made it clear that even though someone could be getting by right now, that situation could change at the drop of a hat.
“Anybody,” Campbell said, “in anybody’s family could be homeless tomorrow.”
“We need our community to understand who we are and what we’re doing ... If we can get more funding through our community, then we can put that money where we really need it.” Ron Thomas, Housing and Homelessness Alliance of Racine County president
“We need our community to understand who we are and what we’re doing ... If we can get more funding through our community, then we can put that money where we really need it.”
Ron Thomas, Housing and Homelessness Alliance of Racine County president