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Homeless Services Fair Draws Scores of People to Marquette University

Marti Mikkelson
Stylists were on hand at the homeless services fair at Marquette University.

Dozens of homeless people in Milwaukee flocked to Marquette University on Thursday. The campus hosted a fair for people needing basic services - from haircuts to vision screenings.

Demetrius Harper hasn’t had a place to call home in four years. The 45-year-old admits his homelessness has been the result of poor choices.

“Bad decision here, bad decision there, I decided to live with a lot of people and not saving any money. It’s hard to save money when you have a lot of habits, alcohol and drug, smoking, everything pretty much,” Harper says.

Harper says he’s currently unemployed and staying with a friend. He’s perusing a huge room located in Marquette University’s Alumni Memorial Union. Several dozen vendors are set up at tables, helping people find housing, jobs or medical care. Harper says he’s looking for a number of services today including mental health.

“It seems like I’m depressed even on a good day. Like a beautiful day out there like right now, I’m still depressed,” Harper says.

Another person walking from table to table is Diane Sanders. She says she lost everything about a year ago when she injured her knee.

“Due to my leg, my knee forbid me from working so I lost my place, I need help with housing, that’s what I’m basically here for,” Sanders says.

Sanders says she’s currently staying at a local shelter. She’s having surgery on her knee next month, and thinks her chances of finding work will be better once she’s on the mend.

Not everyone at the services fair is homeless; it’s also for people who are struggling to make ends meet. Dwayne Pittman lost his home two years ago. But in July, he landed a job at a local printing company and found permanent housing. He says although he’s now gainfully employed, it’s still going to take a while to get back on his feet.

“They have a lot of programs here that can help you out, like getting better housing, owning a home, they have contractors here if you want a side job, stuff like that,” Pittman says.

Pittman also grabbed a pair of socks and a toothbrush from a table and got a free haircut at the fair.

One of the sponsors is the City of Milwaukee. Grant Compliance Manager Rafael Acevedo estimates that on any given day, more than 1,500 people in the Milwaukee area are homeless. He says he’s seen some disturbing trends.

“When we look at our numbers, we definitely see a higher number of African-American men who are homeless. When you look at data for the City of Milwaukee, you look at unemployment, they are mimicking those numbers,” Acevedo says.

Acevedo says the city and county continue to work toward a goal to eliminate homelessness in three years. The initiative started in 2008.

Marti was a reporter with WUWM from 1999 to 2021.