Representatives from regional public service agencies and non-profits came together to discuss recent numbers and developments on the state of homelessness in Wisconsin and the five-county area they serve.
“In this particular community you have a lot of folks who are not funded by state or federal resources and when you have that many providers who are not funded by federal resources, it is a different collaboration that is necessary, because you are not tied together by money,” said Carrie Poser, director of Wisconsin Balance of State Continuum of Care.
Balance of the State, Poser said, serves all counties in Wisconsin except Milwaukee, Racine and Dane counties and is comprised of agencies that serve and support those who are homeless. Separate agencies assist the three large counties.
Poser has been touring rural Wisconsin presenting recent statistics on housing programs and their effectiveness. Among information shared was a trend in the Central Region including Columbia, Sauk, Dodge, Juneau and Adams counties, in which individual people and not families are more likely to access these services.
A positive sign for the region is that 88 percent of clients do not return.
“Whatever bridge you are using, you should explore that,” said Posner, suggesting that whatever local groups were doing to get homeless individuals and families into better situations with permanent housing was working.
“I think one of the successes of the agencies working with homeless clients is that we have a strong case management component to our program,” said Suzanne Hoppe, Executive Director of Portage-based Renewal Unlimited. “Our case managers are really looking at people, assessing their needs, and then doing minimum monthly case management meeting with them to address their needs so when they leave our program, the families have knowledge of the resources they can use to help them remain stabilized in their housing and that is a key part of success.”
Poser reviewed the landscape of funding serving the homeless. She said much of the funding is disbursed by state programs, but is funded by federal agencies such as the Department of Housing and Urban Development or the Department of Veterans Affairs. It was explained that much of the funding to serve homeless people stems from the 2009 passage of Homeless Emergency Assistance and Rapid Transition to Housing Act. The act set out the goal of no family being homeless for more than 30 days.
But some of the local representatives disagreed when Poser said that data showed under-utilization of resources, with shelters and services operating under full capacity, which would then lead to conclusions of funding being unnecessary.
One visitor raised her hand to clarify that her domestic violence shelter was at capacity with a waiting list. According to those present, demand is outpacing the services that can be provided by area shelters including River Haven’s family and men’s shelters in Portage, Hope House in Baraboo, Safe Harbor in Reedsburg, and PAVE (People Against a Violent Environment) in Beaver Dam.
“What it said to me is that the local coalition we need to do more in educating our partner agencies throughout the five-county area about... (the) Housing Inventory Chart,” said Hoppe. “We have to do more education with our partners to say this is why we need you to fill it out, this is why you need to look at that data and ensure that the number of beds are accurate and the number of people utilizing every month — get that information to us so we can report it accurately.”
Poser was prepared for the responses.
“In any set of data that you give, you have the potential of several different reactions, you have: ‘that can’t possibly be right, and let me tell you why,’ you have, ‘I have never seen anything like that before, interesting,’ and then you have, ‘yeah, that looks like what I feel,’” said Poser.
“And in this case there were a few data points that they felt weren’t accurate and that is fantastic to identify it now, but now you have to go back and fix it, and you need to figure out what you are going to do to make sure that doesn’t happen anymore.”
The discussion also provided some important networking with Columbia County Emergency Management Deputy Coordinator Marie Darline Ellis getting specific suggestions and referrals from River Haven Shelter Case Manager Cindy LeGrande.
Poser said, “Bringing the community together is a big task and it might need a little more attention.”