Milwaukee County to unveil plan to ‘end chronic homelessness’

The Wisconsin Gazette

Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett will introduce on June 9 an initiative to address chronic homelessness. Abele and Barrett are set to hold a news conference at the new Thurgood Marshall Apartments and talk about a campaign to “end chronic homelessness” in the county in three years.

“Although the county has been involved in addressing homelessness for years, we decided that incremental progress was no longer good enough for our community,” Abele said in a news release on June 8. “We are ending chronic homelessness. And we are doing it in three years. I want to thank Mayor Tom Barrett for his support of this initiative and the city’s role.”

A chronically homeless individual is someone who has experienced homelessness for one year or longer, or who has experienced at least four episodes of homelessness in the past three years and has a disability.

Instead of the traditional approach of providing short-term subsistence through the provision of shelter beds, the plan to be introduced on June 9 “empowers the chronically homeless by providing housing that is permanent. Permanent housing is demonstrated to yield better outcomes for the chronically homeless and the community at-large.”

Barrett said, “This initiative is a creative and cost-effective extension of the city/county/housing authority partnership that, since 2008, has provided nearly 500 new permanent supportive housing units for individuals and families at risk of homelessness. Now, we are collaborating to address the needs of the most challenging segment of the homeless population in our community.” 

Through this partnership, about $1.8 million a year will be devoted to ending chronic homelessness in the county.

Program participants will receive case management services from the Milwaukee County Housing Division to address mental health and substance abuse issues. Case managers also will assess job readiness and help program participants find work. 

This approach will fund an expansion of the Housing First model, which is based on the approach that, despite often having many needs, a homeless individual or household’s first and primary need is to obtain stable, affordable, quality housing. 

“By implementing the Housing First model in our community, we will be able to immediately place homeless individuals directly into permanent housing,” said Jim Mathy, Milwaukee County Housing Division administrator. “Not only will this be a life-changing event for those that are experiencing homelessness, but national data shows that implementing Housing First also results in savings from reduced public service costs.” 

The move to Housing First advances individuals toward independence by helping to address root level causes of social issues for this population and by shifting governmental strategy on homelessness from short-term fixes to long-term solutions.

“In the last four years, we took the difficult steps of improving our fiscal condition and reducing our debt and borrowing costs at the county,” said Abele. “The reason we took those steps was to create the capacity to tackle Milwaukee’s big issues in a substantive way. I’m proud to say that the ‘Plan to End Chronic Homelessness in Milwaukee County’ does just that.”