Wisconsin needs a serious plan to fight homelessness across the state. And to her credit, Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch has agreed to lead a panel to take on this important task.
Just one problem: The Legislature still hasn’t created the Interagency Council on Homelessness for Kleefisch to chair.
The state Assembly unanimously voted last spring for Assembly Bill 234, which would establish the council. The secretaries of eight state agencies and other officials would serve as members. They would draft a plan to prevent and end homelessness, coordinate state efforts, and hold agencies and service providers accountable for results.
A Senate committee quickly held a public hearing on AB 234 in May, with lots of people testifying for the bill — and nobody against.
But nothing has happened since.
That has led homeless advocates — otherwise excited by the Legislature’s interest in solving this challenge — to worry the effort has stalled.
It hasn’t, according to Sen. Patrick Testin, R-Stevens Point, who chairs the Senate Committee on Workforce Development, Military Affairs and Senior Issues. Testin’s office said Tuesday his committee plans to vote on AB 234 and another homeless bill within a few weeks.
That’s good to hear, and it should lead to a vote by the full Senate this fall.
The Legislature has had a lot on its plate, including passing a state budget and debating unprecedented incentives for a flat-screen manufacturing plant. With those bills behind them, lawmakers should return to the homeless issue.
The State Journal’s special report “Homeless in Madison | A City Challenged” last year showed the state spends far less than many of its peers on helping desperate individuals and families find stable housing. In addition, our state lacks a single entity to oversee efforts to address the harsh realities of the problem.
The state budget Gov. Scott Walker just signed into law contains $1 million for grants to help families move out of shelters sooner by connecting them with housing, training and employers. That’s good news.
But an interagency council is still needed to create and push a comprehensive state plan with broader goals. The council would coordinate efforts at the state and local levels to avoid duplication and improve the impact of programming.
Another bill, AB 236, would prioritize the chronically homeless for state rent assistance programs.
The only real cost for the council is $73,000 for a staff member and $22,000 for operations. Those are modest amounts for such an important and neglected priority.
The Senate should quickly send AB 234 and AB 236 to the governor’s desk.