Identifying the Problem
When I first became a legislator back in 2011, a prominent memory of coming to Madison was seeing many people without homes around the Capitol square. Coming from Kaukauna, it just wasn't something I was used to seeing very often. But as the months and years began to pass, so too did my perception of the people who had drawn my attention so prominently in those first days. When I noticed that those in need were becoming simply part of the Madison scenery for me, I realized that as a legislator, there was more I should - and could - be doing for our state's most vulnerable.
And so, in 2016 our Assembly Republican caucus identified homelessness as a priority in our Forward Agenda.
In April of 2017, I teamed up with colleagues in the Assembly to release a series of bills to address homelessness in a statewide, comprehensive way - the first major attention the issue had received in decades. These bills were formed through meetings with agencies and advocates alike, ensuring that the reforms we put forward would reflect the most pressing needs.
In conjunction with this first legislative push, my office began setting up tours throughout the state for legislators to attend in order to add visibility to the issue. At these tours, we would meet with advocates and people experiencing homelessness, hearing their stories and ultimately their needs.
Setting a Course
In May of 2017, the Assembly approved our package of homelessness bills, garnering broad bipartisan support.
One bill in our first steps package of bills created a new statutory body, the Interagency Council on Homelessness (ICH). The ICH was, according to advocates, the most important piece of the puzzle that, at the time, Wisconsin was still missing. The ICH consists of decisions makers from state agencies and organizations along with a governor-appointed designee, tasked with the goal of coordinating state-wide resources and goals to ensure all avenues combating homelessness are being utilized.
Months later, the Senate also approved our homelessness bills, sending them to Governor Walker's desk to be signed into law. On November 27, 2017, Governor Walker's signature marked the creation of the Interagency Council on Homelessness.
Exactly one year to the day of its authorizing bill becoming law, the ICH released its 2019-2022 action plan, A Hand and a Home: Foundations for Success, which was hailed as "perhaps the state's most coordinated, deepest attempt to prevent and curtail homelessness."
Continuing the Conversation
In the beginning months of the 2019-2020 legislative session, I once again joined with Assembly Republican colleagues to introduce a second round of legislation to address homelessness in our state. This second round, coined "A Hand for the Homeless," follows the recommendations made in the ICH's action plan, including new programming and $3.75 million in new spending - a number that more than doubles the state's current commitment.
After a May Joint Committee on Finance vote to set aside funding for homelessness initiatives in Wisconsin, the Assembly voted in June to approve the eight bills that make up the "A Hand for the Homeless" legislative package.
Currently, we are working with the state Senate to get the "A Hand for the Homeless" bills on the floor for a vote. After passage, they will head to the governor's desk to be signed into law.