Guest Column from Rep. Jim Steineke
Finding Next Steps for Ending and Preventing Homelessness in Wisconsin
Word Count: 485

When the Wisconsin State Assembly passed a package of bills aimed at ending and preventing homelessness in Wisconsin last month, it would have been easy to give my colleagues a congratulatory pat on the back and move on to other issues. However, the information I’ve been given, the personal stories I’ve heard, and the connections I’ve made to the homeless population and the advocates who serve them have inspired me to continue the discussion beyond just these first step bills.

Last week, I attended several tours of homeless service facilities in Appleton and Green Bay, ending the day with a roundtable discussion with professionals, advocates, and lawmakers alike to discuss the needs of northeastern Wisconsin’s most vulnerable population.

Our day consisted of tours of the Family Services Transitional Housing Drop-In Center and the St. John Micah Center, and lunch at the St. John the Evangelist Homeless Shelter in Green Bay, followed by viewing the (In)Visible display at Appleton History Museum and hearing success stories from previously homeless individuals. At the end of the day, we conducted a roundtable discussion with over 20 legislators, advocates, police officers, and agency officials to discuss how we can move forward on this issue.

Hearing directly from former and current homeless individuals was an eye-opening and moving experience. While eating lunch with the regulars at the shelter, I learned that some had a job, but still couldn’t make ends meet. Many had children to whom they gave what little money they had. Most had a health condition, whether mental or physical, that contributed to their inability to get on their feet. The overarching narrative was overwhelming – these are people that are motivated to do and be better.

At the Appleton History Museum, I heard from one individual – a young man, well-spoken and nicely dressed – who told of his story of using rock bottom as a foundation to re-build his life. He is now about to graduate college, with his eyes set on an eventual doctorate in social psychology. He credited his case manager for where he is at today, explaining that without her daily presence and unwavering support, he would still be sleeping under a bridge. His story, along with others, made me even more resolute in the importance of hearing from professionals just like his case manager about what their needs are to make sure they can best serve the homeless population. I know we can do more.

While I am gathering information for new ways to tackle homelessness, I look forward to our original bills being passed in the Senate and arriving at Governor Walker’s desk to be signed into law. This first step legislation is crucial in combating homelessness in Wisconsin. I call on my Senate colleagues to join us and pass our legislation, and I look forward to finding more ways to continue the conversation on the best way to end and prevent homelessness in Wisconsin.