Democratic Gov. Tony Evers made it clear last week he’s serious about fighting homelessness.
So did Republicans who control the Legislature.
The bipartisan commitment was reassuring and should extend to other important issues as state leaders put together a two-year state budget in the coming months.
Evers announced he will lead the Wisconsin Interagency Council on Homelessness. His predecessor had assigned the job to his lieutenant governor.
Evers’ personal and prominent involvement will bring more attention and influence to the cause. He also should commit more resources to the effort when he unveils his state budget request to lawmakers Thursday.
Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke, R-Kaukauna, and other Republicans called for $3.75 million in new annual spending to help the homeless. The money would pay for recommendations the council issued last fall, including short-term grants and loans to avoid eviction, funding for staff and services at shelters, money for low-cost housing repairs, and “navigators” to help the homeless find apartments. Another priority should be measuring progress toward clear goals.
The homeless problem is widespread across Wisconsin, with nearly 22,000 people receiving shelter and services in 2017. In addition, schools report nearly 20,000 children lack a fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residence. Such insecurity negatively affects learning, which helps explain Evers’ keen interest in the issue. Evers was state superintendent of schools for a decade before winning the governor’s office last fall.
The State Journal highlighted the homeless challenge and possible solutions with a nine-month reporting project in 2016. The very next year, then-Gov. Scott Walker — with unanimous support from the Legislature — created the Wisconsin Interagency Council on Homelessness.
The council brings together the leaders of eight state agencies, encouraging them to coordinate their efforts to end homelessness. Bipartisan support for “Housing First” strategies has been strong. Housing First places chronically homeless people in permanent housing, regardless of any convictions or addictions, where they then receive support services. The successful model has been adopted in cities such as Madison as well as rural communities.
Some Democratic lawmakers complained last week about being slighted by Republicans who announced several homeless bills without their involvement. Better communication across the partisan divide is needed. But Democrats shouldn’t fret over who gets credit for seeking solutions. Democrats should have plenty of opportunity to provide input to Evers and his Cabinet, who will control the Council on Homelessness.
Cooperation will be key to helping thousands of desperate families find stable places to live.
— Wisconsin State Journal