A CITY CHALLENGED
A Wisconsin State Journal special report
CHAPTER I: LOCAL, STATE RESOURCES FALL FAR SHORT
They sleep in beaten vehicles and tents in the woods. Doubled up with family or friends in worn apartments and ratty motel rooms. Huddled under bridges and in crowded shelters. The stereotype is a weathered denizen of Capitol Square. In reality, perhaps half are children, most out of sight. Our "Homeless in Madison | A City Challenged" project aims to shine a light on one of the city's most pressing troubles.
ABOUT THIS PROJECT
Seemingly intractable, homelessness is among the biggest problems facing the Madison area. For nine months, the Wisconsin State Journal has been investigating its root causes, obstacles to solutions and the insidious effects on the people it swallows up.
We tell this complex and often heartbreaking story in four chapters. Tap on any chapter heading to jump to that section.
- Chapter I: Homelessness is rising in the face of limited state support, and local efforts have fallen short.
- Chapter II: The growing numbers of homeless -- most of them families and children -- strain social and public safety services and challenge the area's schools.
- Chapter III: The local patchwork of service providers has gaps, struggles to meet the need and offers a hodgepodge of shelters that fall short of modern standards of humane shelter.
- Chapter IV: There are many models for a way forward on homelessness. Which is best for Madison, and who will lead the way?
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READ THE E-EDITION: Click on this link and then click on "Editions" for the full series
HOW TO HELP, HOW TO GET IT
If you are homeless or near-homeless and need help: For emergency shelter, call the toll-free Dane County Housing Crisis Line at 855-510-2323. For other housing questions or general assistance, call the United Way of Dane County helpline at 2-1-1.
If you would like to help the homeless: The United Way's 2-1-1 helpline also is the place to call to give help. Or go to volunteeryourtime.org.
CHAPTER II: CHILDREN AND TEENS FACE DIRE CONSEQUENCES
Though rarely the public face of homelessness, children are, by some counts, the majority of Madison's homeless population.
About 6 percent of homeless students in the Madison School District are living with their families in motels or hotels. Meet one such family.
Homeless young people are recruited in shopping mall food courts, on Facebook, outside emergency shelters or the Dane County job center, bus transfer stations during the school year, and motels.
Youth can be assaulted, abuse substances, develop mental health problems, and engage in "survival sex," trading their bodies for food, clothing, drugs, money or a place to stay.
The volunteer Friends of State Street Family has teams of people who do street outreach, make and serve food, collect donations, and do special projects to help those without homes.
CHAPTER III: OVERWHELMED AND UNDER-RESOURCED
Despite immense goodwill and new initiatives, Madison's service network is strained if not overwhelmed, hampered by a lack of leadership, organization and resources.
With no options, Brannon Prisk and Adria Mackesey built an encampment in the woods, enduring frigid and sweltering temperatures.
The Dane County Homeless Services Consortium's new 21-page community plan to prevent and end homelessness sets first-time housing benchmarks.
As Madison looks at potentially big changes to its homeless shelter system, its current hodgepodge of ill-suited, outdated drop-in sites has fallen far behind industry recommendations for shelters that promote dignity and contribute to a person's recovery.
At Higher Ground in Minneapolis, the architecture and the policies are intended to convey respect and move people toward self-reliance.
CHAPTER IV: SEEKING WAYS FORWARD
With attention to the problem growing, there are signs of momentum to address the glaring gaps that leave the state's most vulnerable homeless.
Nine months of reporting for this project included conversations with more than 100 service providers, advocates, experts, officials and homeless people. Those efforts shed light on myriad problems related to homelessness — and many suggestions and models for possible solutions. Here are some of them, in the most critical areas affecting homelessness in Madison.
Homelessness is a complex problem, with no one-size-fits-all solution. Yet for the vast majority of people who end up on the streets, homelessness will be a temporary episode in their lives. We asked three recently homeless people to share the critical piece of help that got them into housing.
During the course of this nine-month reporting project, many homeless people allowed the State Journal to follow them as they attempted to get off the streets. Their willingness to share intimate personal details during a vulnerable and often chaotic time in their lives offered invaluable insight. Today, we check back in with some of them for a final update.
FACES OF HOMELESSNESS
The Wisconsin State Journal has been following a diverse group of homeless individuals, some since January. Over the course of these special reports, readers will learn about their challenges and watch as their lives unfold. Here is an introduction to some of them. Tap on a picture to learn more.
"I don't let them use homelessness as an excuse for bad grades. This cannot be a crutch for them."
"I was a 9-year-old addict ... I got kicked out when I was a kid ... What was I supposed to do? You tell me I'm a bad mom. It's just because I don't have a home."
"Sometimes it's hard to get money for food and trying to stay clean. ... Sometimes it's hard to get homework done. I don't like to be seen as homeless. I try to keep it hidden."
"I'm in a constant state of panic. It's just a very dark time for me. This relationship is the only thing that gives me peace, but it is also a source of panic. I love her. I don't want her out here by herself."
"A lot of homeless people don't want to get off the street. I do. I'm getting tired of it. I'm working hard to find a job. I have a lot of skills to offer an employer. I've had jobs where I've managed 30 people."
"A lot of people think of the homeless as alcoholics or drug abusers. I'm neither. I'm out here working. I'm not getting anything handed to me."
"I can find a place to live in Chicago. What I can't find there is a job. The economy is messed up. Here, I found a job after just two weeks, but there's nowhere to live. No landlord will give us a chance."
"I didn't have a place. I was thinking day to day. I just thought every hour. Every night and day. It made me feel like I had to do bad things to survive. I carry a lot of burdens and still make people smile."
"We had to fill grown-up roles at younger ages ... I never had a stable group of friends. I didn't stay at the same school."
"I had never been homeless before. It was a culture shock. There were days we didn't have money for food because we were trying to pay our hotel bill. But I'm not embarrassed. These days, it happens to the best of us."
"There are a lot of challenges. The homeless have different challenges, different worries. We help each other out. Everybody chips in."
"You never stay in the same place more than two and a half days — ever. You can go back to it, maybe, if it's a good place. You always keep everything on you. You never leave it anywhere. That's the rule."
VIDEOS FROM THIS SERIES
Alicia Turner talks about her son, K’won Watson, and her family's homeless situation.
Men's Homeless Shelter director Preston Patterson discusses his experiences working with Madison's homeless community and his hopes for the future.
How Minneapolis' Higher Ground homeless shelter became a model facility for cities looking to enhance the lives of their displaced residents.
Brennan Prisk and Adria Mackesey lived in a tent in the woods in Madison for more than seven months after becoming homeless.
Roy and Cindy Jacobs have been living in their van after becoming homeless last fall.
After his belongings were "tagged" by Madison police, John Haines has 24 hours to find a new temporary residence on the streets of the city.
Tami Fleming with the homeless outreach organization Friends of the State Street Family talks about the dire need for housing in the Madison area.
Ron Burford, house manager for Briarpatch Youth Services' transitional home, discusses his history with homelessness and the opportunities the facility offers to similarly challenged youth.
FROM OUR OPINION PAGES: A CITY CHALLENGED
OUR VIEW: It could happen to anyone, as portrait of couple in woods shows
OUR VIEW: As special reports show, many are children while others struggle to find housing even though they can afford the rent
OUR VIEW: Homeless teens pulled into sex trafficking a hidden yet harrowing challenge
OUR VIEW: Madison is a great place to live. It also should be a great place to solve problems.
In today’s world of daily journalism, where we put an emphasis on real-time reporting that breaks news seconds after it happens, it’s not often we get to spend weeks, let alone months, on a project.
ABOUT THE JOURNALISTS
Wisconsin State Journal reporters Dean Mosiman and Doug Erickson and photojournalists Steve Apps, John Hart, Amber Arnold and M.P. King have spent months investigating and chronicling the issue of homelessness in Madison.
Dean Mosiman has covered city government for the newspaper since 1997. A native of Minneapolis, he previously worked for newspapers in California, New York and Washington state. Contact him at 608-252-6141 or email@example.com
Doug Erickson covers K-12 education and religion and has worked at the newspaper since 1999. The South Dakota transplant previously worked for The (Appleton) Post-Crescent, as well as newspapers in Georgia and Minnesota. Contact him at 608-252-6149 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Steve Apps started at the newspaper as a staff photographer in 1997, and became chief photographer in 2010. A Madison native, he previously worked for newspapers in Florida, Wausau and Appleton. Contact him at 608-252-6151 or email@example.com
John Hart, a Wisconsin native, joined the newspaper photo staff in 2010 after having worked previously at papers in Watertown and Wisconsin Rapids. Contact him at 608-252-6158 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Amber Arnold has been a staff photographer for the newspaper since 2012. She previously worked for newspapers in Manitowoc and Missouri. Contact her at 608-252-6154 or email@example.com.
M.P. King has covered general news, features and Wisconsin Badgers sports as a staff photojournalist since 2010. He previously worked at newspapers in Appleton and Green Bay. Contact him at 608-252-6163 or firstname.lastname@example.org.