RACINE — Compared to its neighboring states, the Wisconsin state budget allocates the least amount of money toward homelessness.
Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch is looking to change that. On June 20, she plans to present a $50,000 grant to HALO Inc., Racine County’s largest homeless shelter. This is only a portion of the $1 million added to the 2017-19 state budget that will help shelters be able to afford to hire case managers.
“Ending and preventing homelessness statewide is one of my top priorities as lieutenant governor, and for the most part, Wisconsin is doing well,” Kleefisch said in a message to The Journal Times. “The number of people going through homelessness around the state has continued to drop. However, there are places that need some additional help.”
The number of people who are homeless in the state has fallen for three straight years, from 3,590 in 2015 to 3,147 in 2018. Racine’s population, however, has risen from 168 to 275 in that same timeframe, according to the Curriculum of Care’s point-in-time counts.
That increase, Kleefisch said, has drawn her eye to Racine.
More money from Madison
In 2016, the Wisconsin Coalition Against Homelessness was founded and promptly issued a letter to the state legislature, calling for more money to be devoted to helping prevent homelessness, specifically requesting increased efforts to transition people out of homelessness and into stable housing.
“This was our first foray into the state legislature,” WCAH Executive Director Joe Volk told The Journal Times.
That kind of advocacy has appeared to begin paying off with the new legislative commitment as Kleefisch aims to stand at the forefront of the issue. But Wisconsin still lags behind other Midwestern states.
The WCAH issued a brief in 2017 ahead of the budget being approved, stating that Wisconsin’s state government spends $3.25 million annually on homelessness-related efforts, while Illinois allocates $53.4 million, Michigan $16.65 million and Minnesota $44 million.
The new initiatives were praised by the WCAH: “Again, we applaud the governor for including a homeless initiative in his budget proposal and we strongly urge you to support this effort,” the 2017 brief read.
Volk pointed out that this was the first increase in state spending for homelessness since 1994.
He and Kleefisch agree that the best way to fight homelessness is to help people find housing.
“Stable housing leads to stable living,” Kleefisch said.
One more manager
A 2015 study published by the Centre for Research on Inner City Health in Toronto found that homeless people served by Housing First-style case managers found stable housing twice as often as those who received “treatment-as-usual.” Also, hospital visits were significantly decreased for those served by HF case managers.
The $50,000 grant that HALO is to receive must be spent on an employment-focused case manager, someone who helps people who are homeless improve their situation and find stability, especially for those who suffer from mental illness.
A case manager helps someone who is homeless by “giving them direction when they’re planning goals and achieving them,” HALO Executive Director Gai Lorenzen said. “They offer support in times when (a homeless person) might want to give up … It’s really going to help our clientele."
Right now, HALO staffs five full-time case managers. Two are focused on men’s cases, two on women and one for children.
Lorenzen said that there isn’t anybody lined up for the job yet. A current HALO employee may be given the job, if they have the right certifications, or a new person may be hired.