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Bipartsanship needed on homelessness

by the Wisconsin State Journal Editorial Board

An estimated 20,000 people —including many children —are homeless in Wisconsin as winter approaches. Living out of cars, in tents or on the street, they need a hand up from their quiet suffering.

State government is at a critical point in addressing this chronic, costly and morally distressing problem. In recent years, bipartisan support for a stepped-up response has led to promising results. This includes the Interagency Council on Homelessness, which was created by former Republican Gov. Scott Walker and is now led by Democratic Gov. Tony Evers.

The council has endorsed the state’s first coordinated and comprehensive action plan, called “A Hand and A Home: Foundations for Success.” The state budget includes $7.5 million in additional spending over two years. But as a special Wisconsin State Journal report —”Homelessness in Wisconsin | State At A Crossroads”— showed a lot more must be done.

Most pressing are eight bills in the state Senate that will implement much of the state’s “A Hand and A Home” blueprint. Republicans primarily drafted the bills, with the GOP-run Assembly approving them in June. Evers is eager to sign them.

The Republican-controlled Senate should advance this important legislation soon, without playing political games. As Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke, R-Kaukauna, said in the report, simply throwing money at the problem isn’t the answer or goal. Instead, the $7.5 million will be targeted to efforts that have shown promise.

Steineke and other homeless advocates also want to measure state and local efforts carefully for clear results and accountability. The eight bills and $7.5 million, which the Legislature’s budget committee must release, will: 1.) Provide short-term grants or loans to defray housing costs. 2.)Help struggling people find housing. 3.) Create more beds at emergency shelters. 4.) Pay for skills training to escape homelessness.5.) Assist landlords with repairs to low-cost housing. 7.) Expand grants for housing and related services.

These efforts alone won’t eliminate homelessness across Wisconsin. But they will improve the lives of many, including thousands of children, who research shows do worse at school when they lack stable living situations. Front and center in the state effort is a proven strategy known as “housing first,” in which homeless people get immediate access to housing without requirements such as sobriety. Diversion and prevention are key, too.