In his opening statements to Mayor Robert Mielke and Wausau City Council members regarding homelessness, Joseph Volk stated: Marathon County and Wausau have a problem.

Joseph Volk, the Executive Director of the Wisconsin Coalition Against Homelessness, was one of the speakers at the Presentation: Spotlight on Homelessness in Marathon County, Thursday, February 15th. Mr. Volk highlighted many statistics regarding homelessness. (Additional information has been added by the author of this report.)

*Homeless children in the school districts of Wausau and D.C. Everest has increased 110% in five years. For the 2012-2013 school year, 99 students in the Everest District were identified as homeless. For the 2016-2017 school year, 172 students were identified. (DPI) Mrs. Erin Jacobson, the DC Everest High School social worker said that ‘Doubling Up’ is the most common category for homelessness in this area. ‘Doubling Up’ means a family is staying with another family or individual for a temporary period before transitioning to another home or shelter. (The Jet November 2017)

The Wausau District identified 133 homeless students for the 2012-2013 school year. For the 2016-2017 year, the number increased to 205. (DPI)

*On any given night in Wisconsin, about 20,000 people are homeless. In 2017, 25,000 received homeless services in the state. Forty-two percent were families with children. This figure does not include women and children living in domestic abuse shelters or people living with friends or family who have not accessed services. The homeless shelters in Wausau are full each night.

Safe, quality, affordable housing for families and children is imperative.

*Wausau has a housing problem. The need for shelter is one of the unmet needs. The average rent for a two bedroom apartment for four people is $838 a month. Using the federal guideline of 30% of earnings spent on housing, a person in Wausau would need to make $13.87 per hour. At $7.25 an hour, a person would have to work 89 hours per week.

Why should the city, county, and state get involved?

*Very little has been done in the past 25 years in Wisconsin to address the homelessness issue. Most of the focus has been on single men.

*Safe stable housing is a human need.

*Homelessness costs money: Emergency room visits; public services including the police and EMT’s; others.

*Providing affordable housing and transitional housing saves money.

*It is a moral imperative. Mr. Volk reminded the Mayor, the City Council, and everyone in the room that people are depending on us to make sure kids are safe, dry, and warm. He encouraged us to work with families to assure that Mom and Dad can keep their children fed and warm and safe.

What can be done?

Mr. Volk made several recommendations.

*Take on the issue. Other communities in Wisconsin haven’t.

*Bring people to the table: homeless advocates; health advocates; business leaders; churches; schools; concerned people in the community; city council and county board members; intergovernmental agencies; others.

*Work with the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority (WHEDA). Wisconsin has seen a slight increase in funding from the state through legislative action.

*Form a committee to create a plan for more quality, safe, affordable housing: how many, what kind, where, rent levels, who is responsible for maintenance, sources of funding and accountability.

*Create a plan with specific goals, metrics, and accountability.

Alderwoman Lisa Rassmussen went through the Poverty Simulation with her son. In 30 minutes, they were “homeless and broke.” Transportation was one of the biggest challenges getting to agencies to access services. Ms. Rasmussen spoke about the anxiety she and her son felt going through the simulation knowing full well she and her son had the necessities for quality of life.

Alderwoman Rasmussen asked several questions:

What are policy solutions to address the homelessness housing issue? Are there policies that put up roadblocks? What zoning ordinances could be changed that limits the number of people who can live in a house?

Pam Anderson, co-chair of the Marathon county Housing and Homelessness Coalition, also spoke as did Tracy Riger, the coordinator at the Catholic Charities Warming Center.

(to be continued in the next issue)