While Wausau and Marathon County have struggled to address affordable housing and homelessness, a few cities and communities have had significant success in reducing the number of people living on the streets or in shelters.
Successful cities have all prioritized a “housing first” policy. Under this approach, cities prioritize the provision of permanent housing for homeless people, serving as a platform from which they can improve their quality of life, according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness.
Among these, Houston made waves by moving 25,000 people off the streets into their own homes over the past decade. The Coalition for the Homeless of Houston worked with Harris County officials, the mayor’s office and local landlords to help people living in shelters and tents move directly into one-bedroom apartments, some for a year, others longer. They are no longer forced to live in homeless shelters or face the threat of police citations, a prospect faced by homeless people in Wausau.
The CAUF company profiled Columbus and Salt Lake City among four cities that have successfully tackled homelessness – to varying degrees – in addition to Vienna, Austria and Helsinki, Finland. The organization, whose name stands for Cold And Uncared For, works to reduce homelessness in various capacities.
Many organizations working to reduce homelessness and cities that have reduced homelessness generally say their best solution is their “housing first” philosophy. Houston, Texas, ColumbusOhio and Salt Lake City, UT have all adopted some form of politics.
Austin, has also adopted similar strategies and officials there say it is their “moral imperative” to end homelessness. The Texas capital has planned to build shelters outside the city center after enacting new rules on resting, camping and begging, rules that have sparked heated debate. An ordinance passed in Wausau in 2019 led to a similar conversation.
Advocates say housing can help people address other areas that may have contributed to their homelessness, such as employment, health and addiction. While experts agree that more affordable housing is imperative, some caution is warranted as to the lens through which the problem is viewed.
“As long as the framework is that people are homeless because they have a mental illness or an addiction, that doesn’t solve the systemic problem that we’re not building enough homes,” said Jenny Schuetz, a policy expert from the housing and Senior Fellow at Brookings. Metro, in an interview with Bloomberg new. Schuetz is the author of Upper fixatora book that examines the causes of homelessness and offers practical solutions for local, state and federal governments.
Some experts from the American Psychological Association claim that homelessness can be the cause of physical and mental disorders. Other studies have shown that homelessness and mental health disorders have a complicated two-way relationship. “However, several studies have shown that people with mental illnesses often end up homeless mainly due to poverty and lack of social housing,” according to the Brain and Behavior Research Foundation.
Salt Lake City, once a national model for reducing homelessness by 91%, has faltered in recent years and hasn’t built new permanent supportive housing since 2010, according to a Reuters report. Some city leaders are suggesting going back to their previous “housing first” approach, but so far that hasn’t happened. Although Utah state lawmakers created a commission in 2018 to explore affordable housing, they “failed to pass a $100 million bond to build new housing.”
According Research benchAbout half of Americans say the availability of affordable housing in their local community is a major issue, up 10 percentage points from the start of 2018.
According to data from the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness, in a single night in 2020, approximately 580,000 people were left homeless in the country. Six in ten were staying in sheltered places – emergency shelters or transitional housing programs – and nearly four in ten were in unsheltered places such as on the street, in abandoned buildings or other places unsuitable for human habitation, the Council said.
These figures reflect a 2% increase from 2019, the fourth consecutive annual increase recorded. Number of enrolled students who cited some form of homelessness increased, too. For Wisconsin, the number of homeless people each day is 4,515according to state figures.
What does Wausau do?
Poverty and low income play a part in keeping housing out of reach for many local families. In Wausau and Marathon County, where the poverty rate is 15.8% and 6.7%, respectively, according to the 2020 U.S. Census, issues related to homelessness were highlighted. scrutiny lately. The Wausau Police Department said it has seen a sharp increase in complaints from businesses and residents in downtown Wausau about people being homeless.
The city’s Affordable Housing Task Force, an advisory body, recently presented a five-tier strategy to city council. Of these, they listed building more affordable units as their top priority using funding from the American Rescue Plan Act. The task force has been urging for several months to build affordable rental housing in Wausau. A letter to the editor from Wausau Pilot & Review also urged using ARPA funds to build more affordable housing.
Tammy Stratz, Wausau’s community development manager, told Wausau Pilot & Review that affordable housing and homelessness is “not just a Wausau thing,” but rather a national issue. “Discussing with other communities at our national conference last week, we are all in this together and struggling to find answers,” she said. “There is no single program that will solve everything.”
Two affordable housing-related proposals from the Community Development Department are pending with the finance committee, whose members said on June 14 they wanted more information before moving forward. One of the projects is to provide “Affordable Housing Improvement and Expansion” with a $1.3 million award, with ARPA funds accounting for $1 million and the rest to be borne by the town. The proposal includes forgivable loans for landlords if they pledge to pay housing assistance for income-eligible tenants. The other is a housing counseling/down payment assistance proposal with an ARPA funding request for $34,000, with the remaining amount, $26,000, to be provided by the city.
Wausau has recently increased low interest loan amounts for households that qualify under HUD income standards. Wausau’s finance committee also approved a $500 closing cost grant for residents participating in the city’s housing counseling program who purchase a home in the city.
The city also offers a Homeowner Rehabilitation Loan program, another low-interest, low-repayment loan to help with needed home repairs.
According to data presented by United Way of Marathon County at the Wausau Affordable Housing Task Force meeting in February, 850 people sought emergency shelter in Wausau and other areas of the county in 2021.
Wausau-area organizations and residents have called for more affordable housing to be built to address homelessness.