RACINE — With the new legislative session on the horizon and a new governor about to be sworn in, state Sen. Bob Wirch, D-Somers, is trying to make sure the Legislature doesn’t forget about those without a home.
Wirch has been circulating a letter trying to gain support to include recommendations by the bipartisan Wisconsin Interagency Council of Homelessness into the next budget.
So far 24 members of the Assembly, 12 Democrats and 12 Republicans, along with four Democrats from the state Senate, had signed the letter as of Friday.
The letter references the council’s recommendations, a plan called “A Hand and a Home,” calls for “investment in some existing state programs, including the Homeless Prevention Program, the state’s shelter grant subsidy program, the Homeless Case Management Services grant program, and skills enhancement grants.”
The letter also states that the council “also calls for the creation of a few new programs, such as a program to help landlords make repairs to low-cost housing and a grant program to hire ‘navigators’ who can help the homeless locate housing.”
The letter was sent to Gov.-elect Tony Evers along with the chairs of the powerful Joint Finance Committee. Wirch said he wants to “make sure these funds are in the final budget.”
“The homeless problem is a real burden on local government,” Wirch said. “I’ve seen too many legislative council studies come forward and put on a shelf and gather dust. We think this is too important.”
Wirch said that recommendations, like having case managers to help those transition from the street to the home, could go a long way in some local municipalities.
“In some areas it’s beyond the capabilities of local government and their very tight budgets,” Wirch said. “I’m hopeful we can get that done.”
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, said he is open to the proposals and additional funding but would like to talk to local service providers before making a recommendation.
“The council has done a great deal of work in the year since the Legislature unanimously voted to establish interagency collaboration,” Vos said. “I look forward to closely examining the proposals. Unfortunately, it will take time and even more collaboration to address the complex issue of homelessness in Wisconsin. I’m pleased we have at least taken the first step.”
State Rep. Greta Neubauer, D-Racine, said she has not read the report, which is why she has not signed the letter, but recognizes that there might be some areas were the state can step in to help.
“As a board member of the Hospitality Center of Racine, I agree that housing insecurity is a critical issue in our community and throughout Wisconsin,” Neubauer said. “We need to take decisive action to address homelessness as a state, and I am looking forward to working with Sen. Wirch, Gov.-Elect Evers, and my legislative colleagues to address this pressing issue.”
One of the cities that could be helped by legislation or increased funding is the City of Racine.
Although he is no longer in the state Assembly, Racine Mayor Cory Mason is interested to see what, if any, recommendations are put forward and said “this is an issue dear to my heart.”
“After high school I worked for Habitat for Humanity, and while I served in the state Legislature I authored legislation to provide school districts with additional resources to help address the needs of their homeless students,” Mason said. “Homelessness continues to be an area of concern for our community. Any additional resources to reduce the adverse impacts of homelessness, especially for children, would be welcomed and put to good use.”
“The homeless problem is a real burden on local government. I’ve seen too many legislative council studies come forward and put on a shelf and gather dust. We think this is too important.” State Sen. Bob Wirch, D-Somers
The Journal Times has clarified Neubauer's position on the Wisconsin Interagency Council of Homelessness.