While homeless last year, Janice Hargan sealed her medicine in a container stuffed into a jean-strap purse that she wrapped around her body while she slept.
She was shielding it from drug users at the flophouses where she was staying.
Now, Hargan lives by herself on Janesville’s west side in a small, cozy apartment with a small flat-screen TV, a black futon and a bright red armchair. She’s been sober since Jan. 13 and hopes to get a dog this year.
“For my birthday Sunday, I want to try to quit smoking stupid cigarettes,” Hargan said.
Hargan, 59, is one of 168 clients in Rock County’s Comprehensive Community Services, an expanding program offering sweeping treatment for individuals with mental health or substance-use disorders.
Officials said the burgeoning program saves the county money.
Rock County launched the program in July 2014 to treat individuals who need something less than inpatient care but more than typical outpatient care. Clients in the program span all ages, and many suffer from chronic or complex trauma and mental illness.
The community-based, hands-on approach is entirely funded by Medicaid and does not depend on the county’s tax levy. Kate Luster, director of the Rock County Department of Human Services, said the program ultimately saves the county money because clients are less likely to reach a psychiatric crisis.
“When they have access to treatment and are able to get the care they need, they are less likely to need services on the highest end of our continuum, which is our crisis intervention unit and emergency services, which are extremely expensive,” Luster said.
In the five years since the program’s debut, Rock County’s community services staff has surged from six in 2015 to 63 this year, with continued growth expected in coming years. Jenna Singer, Rock County’s program manager, said the program likely will more than double its current number of clients before it can “break even,” meaning the number of patients leaving the program would equal the number being admitted.
Comprehensive Community Services is administered locally by the county Department of Human Services but was formed by the state Legislature in 2014. Sixty-six counties and three tribes in Wisconsin participate in the program, which was spearheaded by former Gov. Scott Walker, who rejected increased Medicaid funding for Wisconsin.
Counties are required to form regional groups and share services to join the program. Rock County is paired with Jefferson and Walworth counties. They split training, providers and quality improvement services, Singer said.
As the program reaches its fifth year, Singer said, the state is encouraging counties to continue expanding it.
“We’re really wanting to grow,” Singer said. “The need in the community is definitely that significant.”
Social workers in the program often are mobile and mold treatment to individual clients, Singer said. Some clients have complex trauma stemming from abuse or profound neglect. Others have suffered chronic trauma over extended periods. Many have mental disorders coupled with physical or developmental disabilities, Singer said.
In some cases, a social worker might ride a city bus with a client who is anxious or concerned about taking public transit. Others help clients navigate relationships, Singer said.
“Sometimes when we’re out and about, if you see a staff member sitting down having coffee with someone, it doesn’t mean that they’re not working,” Singer said.
The age of clients runs from 4 to 60. Many adult clients enroll after years of therapy and are seeking to cultivate employment opportunities and practical skills, Singer said. Among the program’s 63 staff are therapists, social workers, employment specialists and administrative staff.
Luster said treatment is tailored to each client’s personal goals. In addition to providing substance-use treatment and therapy, the county might offer skills-based work, family education and employment support.
Because the program is funded by Medicaid, Luster said, it can expand in spite of increasingly tight budgets for many county programs.
“There aren’t the fiscal barriers,” Luster said. “In that respect, it’s a really good match for us to meet our goal of improved access to care within our limited resources without having to cut somewhere else.”
Patricia Mathena, 56, has bipolar disorder and physical disabilities and has been in a client in the program for more than a year. Every Tuesday, she meets a social worker at a table in the Rock County Job Center.
Mathena was in the military in the 1980s and moved to Janesville two years ago. She shared a note with The Gazette describing the services offered to her through the program, which includes mental health support, assistance with coping skills, non-judgmental counseling and checks on her physical well-being, she wrote.
Recently, Mathena said, the program coordinated a crew to clean her house because the floors were covered with garbage.
“It’s a lot less depressing when your place is cleaned up,” Mathena said.
Jeremy Demos, Mathena’s case manager, said he often helps Mathena navigate county programs and paperwork as tasks pile up, nudging her in the right direction.
Mathena, who was briefly homeless, said she recently joined a Wednesday mediation group through the program. It’s teaching her to be more empathetic, has lured her out of her apartment and has given her a routine, she said.
“Sometimes there’s something staring you in the face … but you need someone to help you look on the other side,” Mathena said.
“Sometimes just feeling safe is important, especially when you have mental health issues.”
Hargan, who has been a client in the program for three years, attends day treatment for addiction at Mercyhealth Hospital and Trauma Center, Janesville.
On a recent gloomy afternoon, Rebecca Westrick picked up Hargan from treatment, which is a six-day-a-week program.
Westrick is Hargan’s social worker, and she has forged a personal relationship with her, hauling her to appointments, offering coping skills and fueling motivation. Sitting on Hargan’s couch that afternoon, Westrick asked if Hargan has forgiven herself for past mistakes.
“I still have a lot of guilt,” Hargan admitted.
Jen Patridge, a program supervisor with Rock County, said Hargan qualifies for Section 8 housing, but there was no housing available when Hargan was homeless. Her only alternative was living with others, which wasn’t always in the best environment, Westrick said.
“That’s a huge barrier in Rock County, finding affordable housing,” Patridge said. “There really isn’t a solution.”
Hargan has suffered from addiction and mental health disorders for years, Westrick said. She’s vulnerable as a result and needs support building confidence. Hargan is trying to rebuild relationships, set boundaries and tear down barriers.
Hargan’s struggles are not unique. Access to treatment for vulnerable, struggling individuals in Rock County is an ongoing issue, Westrick said. Resources are ever changing, navigating insurance providers is complex, and an increasingly digital world leaves some impoverished individuals grappling with receiving basic information.
“Every day is kind of a learning experience,” Westrick said. “You never really know all the answers.”
Wisconsin liberals hope to take a key step this spring toward breaking a long conservative stranglehold on the state’s Supreme Court, in an election that could also serve as a barometer of the political mood in a key presidential swing state.
If the liberal-backed candidate wins the April 2 state Supreme Court race, liberals would be in prime position to take over the court when the next seat comes up in 2020—during a presidential primary when Democrats expect to benefit from strong turnout.
The bitterly partisan court, which conservatives have controlled since 2008, has upheld several polarizing Republican-backed laws, none more so than former GOP Gov. Scott Walker’s law that essentially eliminated collective bargaining for public workers.
If liberals can win in April and again in 2020, they would have the majority until at least 2025.
“It is absolutely critical we win this race,” liberal attorney Tim Burns, who lost a Wisconsin Supreme Court race in 2018, said of the April election. “It does set us up for next year to get a court that’s likely to look very differently on issues of the day like voters’ rights and gerrymandering.”
The court could face big decisions on several partisan issues in the coming years, including on the next round of redistricting that follows the 2020 Census, lawsuits challenging the massive Foxconn Technology Group project backed by President Donald Trump, and attempts to undo laws that Republicans passed during a recent lame-duck session to weaken the incoming Democratic governor before he took office.
A group run by former Democratic U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder that fights gerrymandered maps spent money supporting the winning liberal candidate in last year’s Wisconsin Supreme Court race. It was expected to do so again this spring ahead of the next round of redistricting.
Given that Wisconsin now has a Democratic governor and Republican-dominated Legislature, the courts will increasingly serve as the battleground where disputes will be resolved, said Douglas Keith, counsel for the Brennan Center for Justice, which tracks spending in judicial races.
Keith said he expects millions to be spent on the April race by outside groups even though majority control won’t shift by its result alone.
This year’s race, which is officially nonpartisan, pits liberal-backed chief state Appeals Court Judge Lisa Neubauer against fellow Appeals Court Judge Brian Hagedorn, the choice of conservatives.
“This is likely going to be the race that determines the philosophy that will govern the Supreme Court for the next 10 to 20 years,” Hagedorn said in an interview. “People understand what’s at stake in this race.”
Liberals are confident the electorate is on their side. Liberal-backed Rebecca Dallet won a spot on the high court last year in a race where she ran a television ad critical of President Donald Trump. Democrats captured every statewide race in 2018 and recent polls show voters siding with Democrats on a host of issues raised during that election.
Trump became the first Republican to carry Wisconsin since Ronald Reagan in 1984, and Democrats are determined to put the state back in their column in 2020. The result of April’s court race will be read as the latest indicator of their prospects.
“They are holding a good hand,” said Republican strategist and longtime court watcher Brian Nemoir. “But we are in a period of political swings right now. What’s true yesterday may not be true tomorrow.”
Democrats are even more confident about 2020, when conservative Justice Dan Kelly will be up for re-election. That race takes place during a presidential primary that should have heavy turnout by Democrats—but not by Republicans, with Trump at this stage unlikely to face a serious primary challenge.
Legislative Republicans were so concerned about losing the Kelly seat that they actually considered moving the primary date to improve his chances, but they ultimately dropped the idea amid widespread criticism.
Both Hagedorn and Neubauer pitch themselves as impartial, despite having partisan ties.
“I am not running for the Supreme Court to promote any policy agenda whatsoever, whether Governor Walker’s or Governor Evers’,” Hagedorn said. “My job doesn’t change one bit depending on who the governor is or who controls the Legislature.”
Hagedorn, 41, served as a law clerk for state Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman, whose victory in 2008 gave conservatives control of the court. Hagedorn served as an assistant attorney general, worked in private practice and was Walker’s chief legal counsel for nearly five years. Walker appointed him to the state appeals court in 2015 and Hagedorn won election two years later.
Hagedorn’s law school blog from 2005 and 2006 has become a flashpoint in the race. He wrote about his evangelical Christian beliefs, calling Planned Parenthood a “wicked organization” and denouncing court rulings favoring gay rights by likening homosexuality to bestiality.
Hagedorn hasn’t apologized for what he wrote and said his personal views don’t affect his judicial rulings. Neubauer said she was surprised by the posts, but she declined to comment beyond that.
Neubauer, 61, was appointed to the appeals court in 2007 by former Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle. She previously donated $8,100 to Doyle.
Neubauer was elected to the appeals court in 2008, re-elected in 2014 and has been chief judge since 2015. She spent almost 20 years as an attorney in private practice.
Both candidates cite bipartisan endorsements as proof that they would be impartial.
Neubauer’s campaign is full of Democratic operatives, including Scott Spector, who managed Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin’s re-election victory last year. Hagedorn’s campaign is run by Stephan Thompson, a former Walker campaign manager.
Neubauer’s husband, Jeff, was a former Democratic legislator and past chairman of the Wisconsin Democratic Party. Her daughter, Greta Neubauer, is currently a state representative from Racine.
“I have chosen a very different path than my family,” Neubauer said. “I would ask to be judged on the path that I’ve chosen and my path is as a judge.”
The winner will serve a 10-year term.
Rhonda Sue Harold
Mary A. Staben
A Janesville homicide victim apparently sat in a truck on a Beloit street for more than two hours Saturday before police and an ambulance were dispatched.
Beloit police said the homicide of the 28-year-old Janesville man happened at about 12:20 p.m., but emergency responders weren’t dispatched until 2:38 p.m., a supervisor at the Rock County 911 Communications Center said Sunday.
Residents near where police found the man said they saw authorities pull a man out of a truck that was parked “funny” along the west side of Vine Street.
Beloit resident Karina Ramirez said she and her family arrived home a few minutes before 1 p.m. Saturday and saw a light-colored pickup truck across the street in the 800 block of Vine Street. The truck was parked askew, up over the curb with its front in a high snow bank next to a tree in the terrace.
She said the truck was still running.
Ramirez, 15, didn’t think anything of the truck until an hour later, when paramedics, fire officials and then police showed up. Ramirez said she looked out the window and saw authorities pull a “white male” from the truck and try to resuscitate him.
It didn’t work, she said.
Police eventually covered the man’s body with a white sheet. The man’s body lay covered on the street for about three hours while police cordoned off the area, combed the street, and moved from house to house talking to neighbors, Ramirez said.
In a release Sunday, Sarah Millard, Beloit’s director of strategic communications, wrote that Beloit police are “actively investigating” what police say is a homicide in the 800 block of Vine Street at 12:20 p.m. Saturday.
The release does not indicate why police believe the incident happened at 12:20 p.m.
Police have said the victim is a 28-year-old Janesville man but have released few other details, including the man’s name.
Millard said detectives still were investigating the killing Sunday. She said police were working to notify family of the man killed, and his identity likely won’t be released before a press conference Monday afternoon.
Authorities have not named a suspect, and they didn’t say on Sunday if they’d made an arrest. Millard said Saturday night no arrest had been made at that time.
Police believe the man killed and a person described as a suspect “had a relationship or knew each other,” Millard said.
Police believe there is no ongoing threat to the public.
Ramirez said she didn’t recognize the man she saw authorities pull from the truck, and she didn’t recognize the truck. She said the truck was not parked across the street when she and her family left at 11 a.m. on Saturday, but it was there when they got back shortly before 1 p.m.
A man who lives just south of where the pickup truck was parked, said he saw police on the street Saturday afternoon. He used his phone to gather video and photos of the scene.
The man wanted to remain unnamed because he’s concerned about his safety if there hasn’t been an arrest. He provided video and photos that show what appears to be a white or cream-colored Cadillac truck parked diagonally in the snowbank. The video shows what appears to a body lying in the street next to the driver’s side door of the vehicle.
In the video and photo, police are seen approaching with a white sheet.
The man said the truck was parked “funny.”
“It looks like maybe he tried to drive away or tried to pull over but couldn’t do it right,” he said.
The man showed a Gazette reporter a spot on the street near where the truck had been parked where he thought he’d seen blood after the police cleared the scene Saturday night.
On Sunday afternoon, the spot was covered by sand and fresh snow.
The man said he’s “not feeling very good or real safe now to have somebody killed right by my house.”
He’s lived on Vine Street for seven years.
“The first couple years, there was shooting and things around this area almost every day,” he said. “Lately, it’s been quiet. It’s been better, until Saturday.”