Crime and policing.
Wisconsin’s economy and worker shortage.
Lots of important issues are getting attention from the candidates for governor as they launch their 2022 election campaigns.
Today we add another big challenge to the list—one that neither Gov. Tony Evers, the Democratic incumbent, nor his leading GOP challenger, Rebecca Kleefisch, addressed in their campaign announcements:
The problem hasn’t improved much in recent years since the state launched an unprecedented yet largely unfinished effort to ensure stable housing for thousands of desperate people across Wisconsin, including many children.
The human misery from not having a safe place to sleep, eat or study for school is intense and traumatic. At the same time, the tragedy of homelessness costs taxpayers more in social and emergency services than adequately addressing the problem would.
That’s why the candidates for governor—along with municipal leaders, state lawmakers and members of Congress—must do more. And now is the time for our political leaders to outline their plans and commitments as the 2022 election cycle approaches, and as World Homeless Day arrives Oct. 10.
The good news is that Evers and Kleefisch understand this difficult issue and have tried to address it in the past.
Evers sought $70 million in his latest two-year state budget for affordable housing, shelter grants and other programs aimed at assisting homeless individuals in the state—most of which Republicans rejected. Instead, the GOP increased housing assistance programs by just $1.2 million and suggested the governor steer more federal stimulus money to the cause.
Kleefisch chaired the Interagency Council on Homelessness when she was lieutenant governor in 2018. The council’s strong work led to eight homeless bills clearing the GOP-led state Assembly. Unfortunately, the Republican-controlled Senate approved only one of those measures, adding $1 million in support for emergency homeless shelters.
The problem isn’t going away.
In Madison, more than 65 people have crowded Reindahl Park on the Far East Side, turning it into a makeshift campground of tents that has led to violence and frequent calls for emergency responders. The city hopes to move the homeless campers from the park to a safer location using $2 million in federal coronavirus relief money. The city also is pursuing a permanent and modern shelter with robust services to steer people to better lives. A developer and social service agency want to convert a hotel into affordable housing.
In Oshkosh, advocates are pushing for a larger, full-time shelter and more affordable apartments. The city’s vacancy rate is less than 2%—a much tighter market than in past years, the Oshkosh Northwestern recently reported.
Near Green Bay, the Oneida Nation used federal COVID relief money to renovate a tribal building into a shelter, The Green Bay Press-Gazette reported.
In Milwaukee, more than 90 people living in a “tent city” under the Marquette Interchange have received help finding apartments, transitional housing or moved in with family members, according to WISN-TV.
Wisconsin needs to step up its search for lasting solutions as winter approaches, and as the coronavirus pandemic continues to limit how many people can be housed indoors together.
What will the candidates for governor do for the homeless, and how will they get it done? We want to know. We’ll be asking them for their ideas and commitments in the coming year. Voters should demand answers, too.