Homelessness is not Racine’s problem, rather homelessness is the result of larger problems in the community — from a lack of mental health and drug treatment services to long-term unemployment.

And Racine’s problems aren’t going away, at least not in the short-term.

But that’s why hundreds of people showed up to a community-wide discussion at Gateway Technical College on Tuesday, March 24 on how to tackle homelessness in Racine County. Sponsored by the Continuum of Care for the City and County of Racine, the purpose of the meeting was to involve the community in the strategic planning process to address the issue of homelessness and homeless prevention in the area.

But while the group largely focused on the past successes and failures, a short-term problem looms. The Hospitality Center, 614 Main St., runs an emergency overnight homeless program that served 110 people this winter and despite having raised almost $47,000, it will close for good this spring, said Rev. Kevin Stewart.

“We never intended to launch a shelter, it was never by design,” Stewart said. “It was a matter of response and need.”

And for those who choose not go or can’t go to the Homeless Assistance, Stewart has bought them tents to start sleeping outside. Meanwhile, the number of chronically homeless people in Racine is on the rise.

The number of folks being served by homeless assistance programs in Racine County has been at about 1,100 for the last several years, but the number of people who are chronically homeless has increased significantly from 81 in 2013 to 227 in 2015, according to the Institute for Community Alliances.

This may be because shelter intake staff are better at identifying those who are chronically homeless. Still, six out of ten people using homeless shelters return to the Homeless Assistance Leadership Organization, but about 50 percent of available shelter beds in the city of Racine are being used.

Key takeaways gleaned from the data were: Homelessness is not decreasing and shelter beds are not being used; chronic homelessness is increasing, shelter beds are sitting empty while people stay unsheltered, and a housing first model that looks at placing people in apartments works better than shelter-based programming and costs less money.

“I know that the discussion is around whether Racine should build a new shelter… keep this in mind,” said Demetri Vincze, project assistant with the Institute for Community Alliances.

As the discussion evolved, several people took issue with a housing first model.

Stephanie Kober, family program director at HALO, explained how she was once homeless and uses her experience in her current job.

“Nobody gave me keys to an apartment first… nobody told me, I’ll do this for you and if they did, I would have ran over them,” Kober said. “People gave me help and I used them for my needs. Not until I chose to make a difference in my own life did anything happen for me.

“Without me telling my clients, ‘You do this… they will not succeed. And if you do everything for someone, they will not succeed.'”

But Bob Rhodes, who has lived at the Hospitality Center all winter, said he’s been in and out of HALO several times and it wasn’t until he met Stewart through the shelter program that he was really open to helping himself.

“With my situation, I needed to find God first and that’s where I connected with Kevin,” he said. “HALO wanted me to get a job, but there was something else going on that Kevin could see was going on.”

Rhodes was losing his memory and misplacing things. He later went to the doctor and found out that he has early onset dementia coming on, he said.

“Something was wrong and it took a priest and a church to recognize that when everyone else seemed to miss that,” Rhodes said.

Here’s a blog we started on the Racine County Eye Facebook page with some of the notes from the speakers.

 

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Denise Lockwood has an extensive background in traditional and non-traditional media. She has written for Patch.com, the Milwaukee Business Journal, Milwaukee Magazine and the Kenosha News.

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