In its 2018 allocation, Milwaukee County is planning to cut funding to homeless shelters by 28%, a loss of $200,000 to seven agencies that provide year-round shelter to homeless adults, youth and families with children. County Executive Chris Abele and the County Supervisors have previously supported efforts to end homelessness in Milwaukee County, but have been unable to compromise in order to care for the most vulnerable in Milwaukee.
These cuts in county support, compounded with recent substantial reductions to shelter funding by the City of Milwaukee, will have a devastating impact on homeless services in our community. The shelter system is poised to lose a total of $488,798 in 2018, with further cuts expected in 2019.
“This is a severe loss to our shelter system. We’ll see fewer beds available, staff layoffs, shorter hours and more people living on the street,” said Wendy Weckler, chair of the Shelter and Transitional Living Task Force. “One shelter will completely eliminate its budget line for bus fare that clients rely on for medical appointments, job and housing searches. The County is taking a step backward in its efforts to end homelessness.”
Since 2015, Milwaukee County’s Housing First has been a critical partner in reducing the number of homeless people in the county. Hundreds of chronically homeless individuals and families have moved into safe, permanent housing. The January 2014 Point-in-Time counted 1,200 total homeless persons in Milwaukee County. Three years later, that number is down to 900 (765 in shelters and 135 living outdoors). Continued success towards ending chronic homelessness means continued support of a full continuum of services.
Emergency shelters are the entry point to most basic needs services in Milwaukee and a critical component in the process of moving individuals and families from the street to permanent housing. Shelters in Milwaukee are near or at capacity every night, serving 5,500 individual adults, youth and children annually. People experiencing homelessness are extremely vulnerable, including women and children fleeing domestic violence, teens without a safe place to call home and the mentally ill without a personal support system.
The Shelter and Transitional Housing Task Force, a consortium of shelters and related organizations, has reached out to both Abele and the County Supervisors asking for 2018 funding to be restored, but to no avail. Weckler encourages the public to contact Abele and county supervisors in favor of fully supporting homeless shelters.
“We’re in a desperate situation. There aren’t enough shelter beds now to meet the demand,” says Weckler. “And these cuts will mean ever fewer options for people living in their cars or in parks. We can and should do better as a community.”