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JANESVILLE

Paola Delgado never got along with her mom, and her dad struggled with alcohol problems.

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The Beloit high school senior has been homeless since the seventh grade, often living in a car or sleeping on friends’ couches. Now a client of the county’s 16:49 program to help homeless teens, she persevered and will graduate from high school early this year.

Hoping to help others like Delgado, the Rock County Homeless Intervention Task Force set its top priorities for 2020 on Friday: emergency housing, multiple-month rent assistance and mental health services.

The task force will use those priorities as a guide as it applies for grants, which will be used by the various nonprofits that make up the group. Nonprofit employees, community leaders, volunteers, homeless people and elected officials helped choose the priorities.

Marc Perry of Community Action, who emceed Friday’s annual meeting, said it was an important starting point as the organizations look for resources.

“We want to hear from community members and stakeholders what services, as housing and homeless-serving organizations, we should be focusing on,” he said. “We want to know if there’s anything we’re missing or any gaps in services.

“We want to make sure we’re spending our resources wisely and most effectively in the areas of most need for the community.”

Jessica Locher, assistant director of ECHO and a task force member, said she wasn’t surprised that emergency housing and mental health rose to the top of the list. She said rent assistance also has become a big issue because of the lack of quality affordable housing.

Sharing ideas with people from different organizations and governmental entities is helpful, Locher said.

“I think having people from all different parts of the spectrum of homeless services and low-income services … it’s just a good thing to have a wide variety of ideas and perspectives,” she said.

Perry agreed.

“We’re hearing from people providing the service, people receiving the service and the people supporting the service,” he said. “It’s a pretty well-rounded mix of people, so when we come to a consensus of the three, those are the true priorities of the community.”

Leslie Ackley was living in Elkhorn before she became homeless a few months ago. She said helping the homeless is important.

Ackley has been staying at Twin Oaks Shelter and is moving in with her niece in February. While she has a place to go, she worries about other homeless Rock County residents.

“They need help,” Ackley said. “When you go to the shelter, you connect with other people there, and when you leave you wonder what happens to them. You wonder, ‘Are they going to find housing?’”

The group will do the best it can to effect change in those focus areas with grants and other help, said Tammy DeGarmo, task force chairwoman and executive director at Project 16:49.

“It’s a social community issue,” she said. “It’s not something that just affects a few people. It affects everyone in a community when you have people that are suffering.”

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