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Shelters And Warming Centers Face Uphill Battle As Funding Stalls In Wisconsin Senate

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Homelessness isn't just in Wisconsin's urban areas, it's a statewide issue, according to Wisconsin Coalition Against Homelessness' Joseph Volk.

The holiday season can be a difficult time for people experiencing homelessness. Harsh and frigid weather can mean fewer spaces at local shelters and warming centers, leaving many people vulnerable to the cold.

Winter came early this year in Wisconsin, leading to an influx of people seeking shelter earlier than expected. After state senators failed to pass bills that would provide necessary funding, advocates for Wisconsin’s homeless are concerned about the future of these shelters and warming centers.

"This is a two-year effort, actually, led primarily by Republicans to get this funding approved," says Joseph Volk, the executive director of the Wisconsin Coalition Against Homelessness

Then Gov. Scott Walker created the Wisconsin Interagency Council on Homelessness, which issued a report in 2018 calling for different solutions to the state's homelessness problem. After the report was released, eight bills were crafted in the State Assembly to address these issues. 

"Those bills were heard in the Assembly, passed back in June — well in time for this winter. Gov. [Tony] Evers has said that he would sign all of these bills and so all that we needed to happen was to get through the Senate ... we have not been able to get them even on the floor of the Senate."

"Those bills were heard in the Assembly, passed back in June — well in time for this winter. Gov. [Tony] Evers has said that he would sign all of these bills and so all that we needed to happen was to get through the Senate," Volk explains. "Those eight bills were sponsored by eight Republican senators in the Senate and nevertheless we have not been able to get them even on the floor of the Senate."

Volk says there are a few state senators who are opposed to the special spending: Sen. Chris Kapenga, R-Delafield; Sen. Stephen Nass, R-Whitewater; Sen. Craig David, R-Big Bend.

“Unfortunately, [Sen.] Scott Fitzgerald [R-Juneau], the majority leader in the Assembly, has refused to put those bills on the floor. And unfortunately, now, the Senate won't be meeting again until January." 

The bills would provide an additional $4 million a year for different organizations that work with people experiencing homelessness throughout Wisconsin. Although the conversation is sometimes framed as an urban issue, Volk points out that homelessness is not unique to the state's urban centers. 

"Homelessness in the state of Wisconsin is a statewide issue — it’s not just Milwaukee, Madison. If you look at the homeless children data, literally every school district in the state has reported that there are some homeless kids in their schools," he explains.

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Joy Powers joined WUWM January 2016 as a producer for Lake Effect. Before then, she was a director and producer for Afternoon Shift, on WBEZ-fm Chicago Public Radio.