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County Chips Away at Effort to Stamp Out Homelessness


The Milwaukee County Board, two years ago, passed a resolution to end homelessness here within a decade. The supervisors included funding. According to the U. S. Housing and Urban Development Department, about 2,500 people in the county have no place to sleep on any given night. WUWM’s Marti Mikkelson checked in on the progress of the county’s mission, amid estimates that 20 percent more people are homeless than in 2010.

A big part of Milwaukee County’s goal to end homelessness involves construction. A crane is lifting boards into place at what will be the Autumn West apartments on Milwaukee’s north side. The site is where I met Joe Volk, director of Community Advocates, a social services agency. He says many of the people who will live here suffer from mental illness, and have been wandering the streets for years.

“These will be people who’ve been under the bridges, the viaducts and the parks. We’ll be able to house them at this site with appropriate case management and it’s part of what Milwaukee County and the city are doing to try to make sure that people with mental health issues have a warm, safe place to stay,” Volk says.

Volk says 21 people will live at Autumn West when workers complete it later this year. The project will bring the number of units the county has helped create since setting its goal, to 600. However, Volk predicts it will take eight more years to build an additional 800 living units. He expects the pace to slow because of tight budgets. Volk estimates that 30 percent of the funding comes from donations, while the county and federal governments provide the bulk – about 70 percent.

“All of these projects are supported by federal low income housing tax credits, other mechanisms that are used to help find the dollars to build these projects. You do worry about the federal level with the deficit and everything else, those kinds of dollars not being available,” Volk says.

In addition to cramping government budgets, the sluggish economy has caused more local people to lose their homes, according to Nancy Wieland. She’s a nurse at a south side shelter. It is the temporary living quarters for the people, who will eventually live at Autumn West. Wieland says she has noticed an uptick in the number of people seeking a place to stay.

“We do have waiting lists and that’s one of the frustrations. I personally as an outreach worker have seen quite a few more folks who basically are homeless and in shelter because they’ve lost their job, they can’t find another job, their unemployment benefits have run out,” Wieland says.

Wieland calls the county’s mission of ending homelessness in the next decade an honorable but lofty goal. She does not foresee people moving off the streets in droves until the economy picks up. Yet, Wieland says she does see success stories. One person who will be easing out of the shelter in a few weeks and moving into her own apartment is Kathleen Roos. She says she’s been living in temporary shelters for two years.

“While I was living in Ozaukee County. I had bought a condo up there. My mental health started going down and then it got really bad. I wasn’t able to work anymore and I lost my home. Ozaukee County brought me to Milwaukee County because they don’t have homeless places up there,” Roos says.

Roos expresses confidence that she’s on the road to recovery, because of the intense psychiatric treatment she has undergone. She will soon draw disability benefits, allowing her to cover rent at an apartment on Milwaukee’s north side. While Roos is making progress, she thinks it might be impossible to stamp out homelessness.

“There are people who like being on the street and are very difficult to get into any type of shelter or back into any type of apartment so that piece of it is probably going to be ongoing,” Roos says.

Community Advocates Director Joe Volk agrees some people will resist the effort to come inside. But, he hopes the county’s resolution will significantly reduce the numbers.