Homelessness initiatives

Rep. Jon Plumber, R-Lodi

Republicans in the state Assembly are proposing $3.75 million in new funding to prevent and reduce homelessness in Wisconsin.

Lawmakers introduced the proposals Thursday, shortly after Democratic Gov. Tony Evers announced that he will lead the Wisconsin Interagency Council on Homelessness, replacing former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch.

The council was created in 2017 under a series of bills introduced by Republicans. The bills introduced Thursday are based on recommendations the council released in November.

"Since beginning this work last session, I’ve been able to see first-hand how much of a need our entire state has when it comes to finding proven, sustainable ways to address homelessness," said Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke, R-Kaukauna, in a statement. "I am confident my legislation and our broader package of bills will help further our efforts in curbing homelessness here in Wisconsin."

The "Hand for the Homeless" package includes $500,000 per year to help prevent evictions and $300,000 to fund short-term assistance designed to move people dealing with homelessness into stable housing outside the traditional homelessness system.

Another bill would boost funding for the State Shelter Subsidy Grant program by $500,000 while adding performance measures that encourage shelters to transition people into permanent housing. The state's Housing Assistance Program, which funds permanent supportive housing, rapid re-housing and transitional housing, would see a $900,000-per-year increase.

The package would also allocate $500,000 to fund case managers who help families in shelters and $250,000 to help find job training for people living in shelters. 

The proposal would also create a $300,000 grant program to help landlords connect people experiencing homelessness with permanent housing and a $500,000 forgivable loan program to renovate existing housing units. 

Another measure would direct the state Department of Workforce Development to develop programs to help homeless youth. 

The most recent report by the Interagency Council on Homelessness found that 21,906 people experiencing homelessness received services and shelter in 2017, and 17,905 people stayed in emergency shelters. Fifty-six percent of those who stayed in emergency shelters were outside of Dane, Milwaukee and Racine counties. 

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The package of bills was unveiled by Republican lawmakers in a series of news conferences throughout the state on Thursday.

Rep. David Bowen, D-Milwaukee, said he was disappointed Democrats weren't invited help draft the legislation or participate in the announcements.

"Once again, Republicans have chosen to act unilaterally on a critical issue that should not be partisan rather than work with Democrats to truly solve the problems affecting the citizens of Wisconsin and Milwaukee," Bowen said in a statement.

An Evers spokeswoman did not immediately say whether he had discussed the legislation with Republicans. Republicans holding a news conference in Madison said they had not asked Democratic lawmakers for input.

"Not everybody can be at the table when you're drafting legislation," said Rep. Jon Plumer, R-Lodi. "My personal thought was they're probably a little busy putting the budget together. I would love to have some bipartisan support from the Democrats. We don't think this is a partisan issue."

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Jessie Opoien covers state government and politics for the Capital Times. She joined the Cap Times in 2013 and has also covered Madison life, race relations, culture and music. She has also covered education and politics for the Oshkosh Northwestern.