Good start on helping the homeless

November 29, 2018 GMT

Here’s some encouraging news for the holiday season: The Wisconsin Interagency Council on Homelessness just released a strong plan to prevent and curtail homelessness.

Congratulations to Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke, R-Kaukauna, other state leaders and housing advocates for their bipartisan spirit in tackling this difficult and festering problem.

The council is calling for $3.75 million in annual state spending on grants and programs aimed at helping desperate people — many of them single mothers with young children — find and keep stable housing.

The council’s embrace of a “Housing First” approach is welcome and mirrors efforts by the United Way of Dane County and other local agencies and advocates. Housing First emphasizes permanent housing with support services — without requiring participants to be free of addictions and convictions. Yet the plan also prioritizes case management to fight substance abuse and improve physical and mental health.


Critics say the effort needs more funding. But the $3.75 million is new money, and it could expand if the grants and programming prove successful.

The council is right to insist on measuring performance. Data will be key to selling the effort to the full Legislature and new governor.

“Any long-term success must not be judged on the number of people added to government programs or placed in shelter beds,” the plan states. “It must be judged on the number of people responsibly moved into independent living with low likelihood of returning to homelessness or financial insecurity.”


Steineke said he’s confident Democratic Gov.-elect Tony Evers and the Republican-run Legislature will work on homeless issues in a cooperative way. We hope he’s right. And we urge the political parties to be pragmatic and avoid ideological demands so momentum toward solutions continues. Coordinating the many existing efforts to fight homelessness is just as important as adding services.

The State Journal’s nine-month reporting project on homelessness in 2016 helped focus attention on what was working and what wasn’t. The council counts 3,470 people who, on any given winter night, are sleeping in cars, in the woods or other places not intended for human habitation. And nearly 20,000 school children in Wisconsin lack a fixed and adequate nighttime residence.

That takes a huge toll on young lives, contributing to difficulties at school and in communities.

The state needs to get even more involved in creating housing and connecting the homeless or nearly homeless to employment.

A sustained effort to stem homelessness and improve the lives of those without stable housing must continue with greater attention and better results.