After a wait, the state Legislature’s budget committee on Monday delivered $1 million more on a grant program that supports emergency homeless shelters over the next two years.
The funds would help add beds to existing shelters or create new shelters in areas of need. The state grant program has not seen an increase in 25 years, advocates say.
“We have now doubled the amount of money available for emergency shelters that comes through the state,” said Michael Basford, director of the Wisconsin Interagency Council on Homelessness. “That’s not nothing. It means we’ll be able to serve more people and help get people off the street and that’s a big deal.”
The legislation is part of a GOP-led package of eight bills and represents only a portion of the $7.5 million set aside in the state budget for homelessness initiatives over two years.
The Republican-controlled Assembly passed the bills in June, but they stalled in the Senate, with proponents trying in vain last year to get them passed before winter’s cold arrived. Some Republicans in the Senate raised concerns over the cost and effectiveness of the proposal.
In January, the Senate approved and Gov. Tony Evers signed the homeless shelter bill, but the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee still had to approve a funding change under which money from the state’s general fund would be repaid by the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority. The committee gave that approval on Monday.
Basford said he hopes the Senate now acts on the other seven bills but is “very, very grateful” for the Joint Finance vote. The Interagency Council will continue to explore ways to aid the homeless, including efforts that don’t require more money, he said.
The effort to increase funding to combat homelessness comes after a special report by the Wisconsin State Journal and other members of the Wisconsin Newspaper Association last fall, which highlighted how much less Wisconsin spends fighting homelessness than neighboring states.
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