Graham Kilmer
MKE County

Officials Relocating Tent City Residents

"Housing First" approach gets the homeless housing and then helps with other problems.

By - Oct 28th, 2019 11:49 am
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Tent City. Photo by Tom Bamberger.

Tent City. Photo by Tom Bamberger.

Officials with the Department of Housing and Human Services (DHHS) are trying to get the occupants of “Tent City” into housing by the end of October.

DHHS is applying a ‘housing first’ approach to relocating the homeless living under the 1-43 underpass. This approach is precisely what it sounds like: they put homeless individuals into temporary or supportive housing without any conditions related to sobriety, mental health or employment. Then they introduce the individuals to services to deal with substance addiction, mental health or unemployment. When you are homeless, that is your number one problem. And until that is solved addressing underlying issues is more difficult.

Earlier this month the state Department of Transportation issued an order to vacate the area. Since then, Milwaukee County has scrambled to get the residents of Tent City into housing, so they’re not simply pushing the homeless to another corner of the city.

DHHS officials are there every day working with the people living there to get them into housing. For them, the first step is transportation to a temporary housing unit. It’s like a warming room, said Eric Collins-Dyke, the homeless outreach services manager for DHHS. “Once you’re in there, you’ll stay over night,” he said. “You’ll be connected to a housing navigator the minute you get in there.”

From that point, they will work to get individuals into shelters or affordable housing. Less than 50 individuals remain in Tent City, down from the warm months of summer when the much-publicized area had grown into several communities of homeless people. And officials like Collins-Dyke hope to have them all out before the end of October, but, more importantly, before the winter weather arrives.

A key to this plan has been the resources made available through partnerships in the community. “This was sort of the most comprehensive solution with United Way and our other community partners to get people into safety and into warmer environments as quick as possible,” Collins-Dyke said.

James Mathy, administrator for the housing division with DHHS, said the housing first model is the most effective model for addressing homelessness. Using it, Milwaukee County has seen a 45 percent reduction in overall homelessness, he said. “This model works. If we had more resources and more partnerships with the private sector, if we could scale this up to the way that we wanted to, homelessness would look dramatically different.”

One local partner for DHHS in the Menomonee Valley is Third Space Brewing. The company is donating 20 percent of their sales from Thursday night and also a “large portion” of sales from their third anniversary party, said Andy Gehl, co-founder of Third Space.

With these funds, the brewery plans to purchase start-up kits for the individuals leaving Tent City. The kits will include things like furniture, cookware or linens. Essentially goods that make an empty apartment a home.

This donation is a “kick off” to what is going to be a monthly program for the brewery, Gehl said. Each month they will donate proceeds from a night to a local initiative. They decided to start with the Tent City housing challenge because it’s in their backyard. “They’re members of our community, too.”

They asked their employees what they wanted to donate to, and the housing first program is it. “It was really our team coming together and saying this is important to us.”

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More about the Tent City

Categories: MKE County, Politics

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