Alderman Calls For Local & State Input On Milwaukee's Homeless Crisis

Nov 21, 2018

Community advocates called for an “all hands on deck” approach Tuesday to Milwaukee’s growing homeless problem. City leaders made their plea in front of a homeless encampment downtown, which has sprung up in the past year.

Ald. Bob Donovan stood in front of the encampment on 6th and Clybourn streets, under a web of bridges that’s part of the Marquette Interchange. Behind him, several dozen tents were set up, along with other items a homeless person might need, such as a chair or an extra sleeping bag. There also are other encampments near downtown. Donovan, whose district covers the south side, called the situation unacceptable.

“Quite frankly, I can’t understand why in 2018 America we have an issue like this that is so profound. After all, this is not 1933 America and we’re not living during the Great Depression. And yet, we see the problems of these people without the shelter and basic necessities that so many of us take for granted every day of our lives,” he says.

The homeless encampment at 6th and Clybourn streets in downtown Milwaukee.
Credit Lauren Sigfusson

Donovan is chair of the Common Council’s Public Safety and Health committee and says the city needs to do better in terms of solving the crisis. He says a special public hearing of the committee will be held Thursday, Nov. 29, at City Hall. He's asking community leaders and elected officials from across the state to participate.

“It is my hope to ascertain precisely where we’re at with this problem, what are the obstacles standing in our way and what can we do short-term and long-term to address this ongoing problem,” he says.

Donovan says the private sector can play a role, too. For example, he's reached out to Marquette University about the vacant Ramada City Center Hotel across the street. Since Marquette owns the property, he asked the university to consider opening the 150-room hotel as a shelter.

However, a spokeswoman says Marquette cannot assume the significant and complex responsibilities that come with operating a shelter. Instead, she says Marquette is involved in other homeless outreach programs. 

Patricia Crerar serves homeless people at the Basilica of St. Josaphat food pantry on the south side. She’s known about the encampment on 6th and Clybourn streets for about a year, and she says about a dozen others have surfaced across the city. Crerar says she can think of several underutilized places that could serve as a shelter.

“There is a vacant building, Forest Home Avenue Library. I can see hotel managers being communicated with to get people in during this bad weather at no charge or at a reduced rate to the city,” Crerar says.

She adds there are also some vacant houses on the south side and she thinks more churches could get involved.