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Homeless meeting

Ruth Rosenow, executive director of Chippewa County Housing Authority, speaks Monday during a meeting in Chippewa Falls about the homeless. Listening are, from left, Gregg Miserk, CDC executive director, and Larry Winter, director of Chippewa County's Human Services Department and Robyn Thibado of WestCAP.

One question has lingered since the Feb. 14 demise of Starting Points, an agency to help the poor.

Where do the homeless in Chippewa County go to start to get help?

That question wasn’t resolved at Monday’s Mission Coalition meeting at the First Presbyterian Church in Chippewa Falls. But the first steps were taken with the participation of members of area churches and the agencies that are helping the poor.

The opening of an office of the L.E. Phillips Career Development Center at 508 N. Bridge St. will help, said J. Joy LaMartina, a member of the coalition. “There will be at least a place where a person will go,” she said.

The CDC will have some vouchers for the homeless to stay on a temporary basis in area motels.

Monday’s meeting at the church drew more than 40 people, and LaMartina was encouraged by the response. The goal of the session was to get momentum for various groups to collaborate, and she said the session reflected a sense of caring by the community and interest from the faith-based community to get involved.

“I felt like there was a real understanding on how complex this situation was and how much need there is,” she said.

Larry Winter, director of Chippewa County’s Human Services Department, spelled out the depth of that need by citing statistics:

— The Food Share program served 618 households, or 4.5 percent of the county’s population, in 2000. Last year, the program served 11,580 individuals, or 18 percent of the county’s population of around 63,132.

— During the same period, 2000-2013, the number of county households using the Wisconsin Home Energy Assistance Program drew from 808 to 2,445.

— The Medicaid Assistance Program grew from serving 5,542 individuals in 2000 to 12,202 in 2013. That 2013 figure translates into 19 percent of the county’s population.

— For 2014, 11.6 percent of the county’s households, 21,135, are below the poverty level.

— For 2014, 14 percent of the county’s households earn $15,000 or less while 27 percent earn $25,000 or less.

One service that ended with the demise of Starting Points was the only homeless shelter in Chippewa County, Harmony House in Chippewa Falls.

Winter said it cost Starting Points $120,000 to $130,000 a year to run the shelter. “There is no state, county, federal funds to support that operation,” Winter said. “That model is very difficult to sustain.”

The Federal government went away from giving financial support for homeless shelter.

“A permanent shelter is a tough one. Not just purchasing it. But maintaining it,” said Ryan M. Graham, case manager for the Beacon House, part of the Eau Claire Interfaith Hospitality Network.

Winter suggested looking at what Dunn County did, which was to buy a fourplex apartment where homeless families can stay. A case manager then works with the families to find them a longer-term solution.

People attending the meeting asked whether churches could take in homeless families for a short time, or whether local motels would be interested in donating a room or two where the homeless could stay.

Graham, who said his agency is helping two Chippewa County families and have six more on a waiting list, said Beacon House years ago used a model where churches would house the homeless. There were some problems with that, including running afoul of fire codes, he said.

“It worked well for families. Would it work well for individuals?” he asked.

As for motels donating rooms, “I think it’s a possibility,” said Greg Miserk, CDC’s executive director. But he added his agency, which has been in Eau Claire for decades but came to Chippewa County only after Starting Points ended, first needs to build trust in the community that it will be a good partner.

One man, who did not identified himself, proposed holding a county-wide referendum where, if passed, each household would pay $10 to help the homeless. It would be better to start it that way rather than the painful way of piecing together agencies to provide the help, he said.

Another suggestion was made for the homeless to use the empty buildings on the grounds of the Northern Wisconsin Center for the Developmentally Disabled in Chippewa Falls.

But that’s not going to work, said Kurt Clausing, who operated Barnabus Table with his wife, Terri Clausing. The couple relies on donations and volunteers to serve meals to the homeless Monday, Wednesday and Fridays at the Barnabas Christian Coffee House, 19 W. Spring St.

Kurt Clausing said most of the buildings at the Northern Center are mothballed. “Those buildings are in such bad shape, it would (cost) hundreds of thousands to fix up,” he said.

Terri Clausing said there was a need for a warming shelter for the homeless. Other participants identified needs including after-hours assistance and transportation help.

Winter encouraged people to attend the “Hunger and Homelessness Summit” being held by U.S. Rep. Sean Duffy (R-Wausau) on Tuesday, Dec. 16 at the WITC Conference Tner, 1019 South Knowles Ave. in New Richmond. That summit, the second one being held by Duffy, will bring together non-profit groups, religious organizations and government agencies.

It’s going to take the work of local communities to make a difference in the problem, said Robyn Thibado, associate director of WestCAP, which took over some of Starting Points duties.

“We are not going to end homelessness where no one will ever be homeless again,” she said.

But she said the groups need to concentrate on having systems in place so when a person becomes homeless it is a one-time experience and they can find affordable housing.

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(7) comments

SRLaBelle

It is probably better for the county to avoid buying rental real estate.
They are almost certain to overpay for the property and overpay for the maintenance.
It would be better for the county social workers to do what they have been trained to do and directly help the homeless with carefully targeted rent subsidies and a carefully designed protocol of assistance rather than pretending that they have some sort of real estate investment expertise and bidding up the commercial real estate market with a pocketful of taxpayer dollars.
Will it really help homeless people if the county builds a Potemkin village of off the tax rolls housing units?
People need help, no doubt about it, but building a county rental property portfolio isn't the way to go about it.

wiggle

I think that the county should build new houses for these people. Now, it should be a small home, but a new home. I live in my own home(that I'm still paying for), they should have their own home(that the tax payers will pay for). Then with all the food pantries, they could deliver the meals to their new homes so that they wouldn't have to worry about transport to the food pantries. Then with the subsidized phone, electric, daycare, health care, eye care, dental care, food stamps, WIC, and farmers markets, and who know what else.....these homeless/welfare people will have nothing to worry about.
Ahhhhh.....I feel better! Don't you??? Isn't it great to help those that don't or are unwilling to help themselves?? Makes me feel good.
Gotta go to bed now. I have to get up early for work to help pay for this!!!

Jim Bob

A little too much wiggle-room in the old cranium there Wiggle. How about you rent out some of that empty space you got upstairs to the County and make a tidy profit for yourself. Heck,you could retire early that way from the look of it.

GDW

The homeless issue will NEVER be solved. Most of these people are very happy with their lives. They know where to get free food at churches. They usually have places to stay. All we need to do is round them up and get them to a shelter when the temps drop below freezing. Their are shelters but they want "no rules" so they will not go there. Some are really in need of homes but their lives are so messed up because of poor decisions that they will never change. You have no home but you continue to pay $8 for a pack of cigarettes and you have a smart phone. You do not look for job. It will NEVER change so just let them be as they are, homeless. Remember, close to 80% are mentally ill.

SRLaBelle

I think that those who would deny the poor their equal share of our nation's wealth are misunderstanding the machinations of our country's financial system.
When the government prints, borrows or promises away future gdp and them lavishes that bounty on the bureaucracy and it's favorites that treasure is being stolen from each of us equally.
A few weeks ago Jack Lew, secretary of the treasury, testified before congress and pointed out that the principal of the U.S. debt will never be paid back, it can never be paid back.
That means that all of those trillions of borrowed dollars and hundreds of billions in interest borrowed on the U.S. credit card are gone, if you didn't get your share you are just out of luck.
I won't begrudge the lowliest, the most drunken, the most profligate their share.
It is their money just as well as mine.
Nixon thought about slashing the well paid 'helping the homeless' sector of the bureaucracy and simply paying every American a living wage, good idea?

mowboy25

How about helping these people by getting them employed. A helping hand up and out of poverty. Maybe two jobs.

alexpaul

This is great initiative. Giving them, vouchers will help them to find a place to stay for some time and this will help to stop the wandering of these people. If more budget can be found which can be utilized in this sector, it can be made much more elaborate. paris city tour

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