In Burlington alone, more than six dozen men, women and children received shelter in 2016 at the Transitional Living Center. Local officials say most people stay one or two nights, may have recently lost a job or are currently working.
We know that homelessness doesn’t have to be a long-term condition and should be addressed through the collaboration of local and state entities.
Homelessness is not just an issue in our area. Most recent figures from 2015 show that 27,532 people in Wisconsin received services and shelter from agencies that take part in the Homeless Management Information System. Those numbers have faces and names — they are individuals with children and some are veterans. They may be a child’s classmate or a distant relative, but all are part of the greater Wisconsin family who we want to see succeed and have a productive and happy life.
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This session, I’m proud that Assembly Republicans are taking the lead on initiatives to end and prevent homelessness in Wisconsin. A package of bills is moving through the legislative process that will give more tools to help individuals gain independence and find a new home.
The package is made up of four bills. The first piece of legislation creates a pilot program to help connect homeless adults to permanent employment. Another pilot program helps move more families and individuals off the waiting lists for housing assistance. The third bill makes reforms to the distribution of assistance funds to areas based on need and gives greater flexibility to ensure housing grants are going to programs that work. This legislation will also allow families to move to another location in Wisconsin to find employment and continue to receive assistance. And finally, in order to coordinate these necessary services to tackle the problem, an Interagency Council on Homelessness is created within the Department of Administration. Using the input of members from agencies and advocates, the goal is to have a comprehensive approach and increased communication between the programs that assist homeless individuals statewide.
During the public hearings on the legislation, advocates told committee members that these bills will actually result in change. I’m pleased that we’re moving these initiatives forward to help the homeless find support and access the resources available to them. Assembly Republicans have been working the legislation since last fall when we made this issue a priority in our Forward Agenda.
It’s important to note that community members, local businesses, volunteers and organizations, like Transitional Living Center in Burlington, play such a vital role in helping the homeless. Now it’s time that we do what we can at the state level to bring hope to the homeless. I think we all can agree that everyone should have a place to call home.
Robin J. V
os, R-Rochester, is the speaker of the Wisconsin State Assembly.