No place to call home
Wisconsin Public Radio
Across Wisconsin, more than 5,000 people are without a home on any given night. In Minnesota, the number of homeless people on any one day is closer to 7,700 people, according to the most recent federal data from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Homeless service providers in northern Wisconsin and Minnesota are preparing for this week’s annual point-in-time count.
The annual effort seeks to get a snapshot of how many people are living in shelters or on the streets for one night in January. Millie Rounsville, CEO of Northwest Wisconsin Community Services Agency in Superior, said many people are struggling with rising costs.
“Incomes haven’t gone up so much, but rent has gone up. Utilities have gone up. Gas prices have gone up so I think the overall number of people facing the issues of poverty, maybe on the verge of homelessness, that number continues to increase each year,” she said.
Around 160,000 low-income households in Wisconsin see more than half their income go to rent, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP). That number has increased by 9 percent in the last decade and 70 percent of those households are living in poverty. In Wisconsin, Gov. Walker signed bills last fall to create an Interagency Council on Homelessness, as well as prioritize housing for those who are chronically homeless.
Around 11 to 14 percent of the population in Rounsville’s five county-service area are living in poverty, according to most recent statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau. Rounsville has spent the last two decades working to provide services to people who are homeless in Douglas, Ashland, Bayfield, Price and Iron Counties. She said shelter services have grown for Solid Rock Safe Haven, the Center Against Sexual and Domestic Abuse, Harbor House Crisis Shelters in Superior, and the New Day Shelter in Ashland. However, she said the mix of federal, state and local funding has been diminishing over time.
“In terms of hotel vouchers and those sorts of things – prevention dollars – a lot of that is very driven on funding,” she said. “Unfortunately, that continues to be a struggle and decrease each year.”
Federal housing assistance has declined about 4.6 percent from 2010 levels to $2.1 billion, according to the CBPP.
In St. Louis County, close to 15 percent of the population is living in poverty, according to most recent statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau. Kim Randolph, director of stabilizing services director at Churches United in Ministry or CHUM in Duluth, said last year’s point-in-time count showed more than 1,000 people were homeless in the city on any given night. She said the addition of the Steve O’Neil apartments provided 44 affordable units for families that experience chronic homelessness.
“But, there’s so much more needed,” she said.
Randolph said they have the six-unit emergency family shelter at Steve O’Neil, but she said that shelter is often full. She’d like to see more housing options become available.
"We need housing that understands the problems related to people having severe mental illness or chemical dependency issues,” she said.
Randolph said low-income people or those who are on the verge of homelessness could use more single-room occupancy housing.
“A lot of them just want a safe little room with a lock on the door,” she said.
The annual point-in-time count will be held Wednesday, Jan. 24, beginning at 11 p.m. through the morning of Thursday, Jan. 25, across northern Wisconsin and Minnesota.