Subeck Explains How Proposed Bills Could Help The Homeless

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Premiere Date: 
May 12, 2017

Subeck Explains How Proposed Bills Could Help The Homeless

State Rep. Lisa Subeck, D-Madison, explains how bills she proposed would help house the homeless population. Subeck wants to fund these bills by increasing government vouchers to pay for housing. She also wants to fund a program that would help prevent evictions in cases of a temporary financial crisis.

Episode Transcript

Frederica Freyberg:

At this time last week we heard from Lieutenant Governor Rebecca Kleefisch on her new role as the chair of a proposed interagency council on homelessness. That council is called for in one of four bills passed in the Assembly. Bills designed to help the homeless population in Wisconsin. In tonight's “Closer look,” another package of bills to aid the homeless is being introduced by a Democratic state lawmaker. These bills would increase government vouchers to pay for housing, fund a program to help prevent evictions in cases of a temporary financial crisis and increase funding to "Housing First" programs among other measure. In all, according to the author her bills would triple spending in Wisconsin for the homeless to $10 million. Representative Lisa Subeck is here. And thanks for being here.

Lisa Subeck:

Thank you for having me.

Frederica Freyberg:

I know that you worked with the homeless population in your role at the YWCA. What is your response to the Republican bills?

Lisa Subeck:

The Republican package of bills that came before us sadly just didn't really get at the problem of homelessness. They create a council, we had a council. It wrote a plan. The plan sat on a shelf for the last almost 10 years now. Now we have another council and my fear is this council will write another plan that will simply sit on a shelf. It's easy to do feel-good proposals like this but it's a lot harder to actually say let's put the resources behind it. Let's do what we know works. And at this point, we have the advantage of knowing what works. Much research has been done. We know what the evidence-based best practices are. And those are rooted in what's called “Housing First.” So the package of bills that I’ve brought forward really follow that “Housing First” strategy of helping people get into housing and then once they're in housing, wrapping the services around them to ensure that they're able to stay there.

Frederica Freyberg:

Isn't that super expensive, though?

Lisa Subeck:

You know it's actually a remarkably cost effective approach because of the amount that we are already spending on the issue of homelessness when you consider that somebody who is chronically homeless. Somebody who is chronically homeless is living on the streets, often upwards of 12 months, sometimes over a period of years in various intervals. The amount we pay in law enforcement and the amount that we pay in emergency medical care to serve that population is so much greater than what it would cost to get that individual in housing, to wrap the services around them and move them toward self-sufficiency.

Frederica Freyberg:

Now one thing that Lieutenant Governor Kleefisch said was that “Housing First” in her belief works best for dual diagnosis, people with mental illness and some kind of an addiction problem. Is that true?

Lisa Subeck:

Certainly "Housing First" is a concept. But there was a very specific "Housing First" program in Milwaukee and we've seen similar programs here in Madison. We have a building on the east side, in other parts of state and other states. When you look at that because you need an intense level of services, the full "Housing First" model really works of actually providing the housing. My bills actually take a little bit of an expanded approach on that. We include some money for "Housing First" programs. In fact, a substantial amount currently the state gives $300,000 in housing grants and we would increase that by $2 1/2 million in order to invest in "Housing First" and "Rapid Rehousing." "Rapid Rehousing" is often for people without quite as high of needs but to get them out of shelters quickly and into new housing, you infuse those "Housing First"-like services during those first couple months after a period of homelessness.

Frederica Freyberg:

It sounds like people like you, people like the lieutenant governor, many people really want to work on this issue and I know that of the four bills that were passed in the Assembly, you voted in favor of two of them. So is there an effort or can there be an effort to work in a bipartisan way on this?

Lisa Subeck:

Sure, I absolutely think there can be. I mean I think the sad thing about the Republican bills was that they didn't take this next step of actually putting resources into solving the problem of homelessness. We've spent enough years with pilot programs and councils and things that certainly address the problem but they address out loud. They address it by talking about it and we need to start addressing it by doing something. The bills that I’ve put forward would start to make that crucial investment. The Council To End Homelessness in Wisconsin, which is the council that helped form -- the group that helped form this government council, there's a couple council -- has advised us Wisconsin needs to at a very start, triple its investment in homelessness. So that is what we're doing here. We're saying we have to stop the bleeding. We can't put Band-Aids on gaping wounds.

Frederica Freyberg:

And yet I understand that even that amount of infusion of resources pales in comparison to what neighboring states are spending.

Lisa Subeck:

Absolutely. The state of Minnesota spends $45 million on addressing homelessness. The state of Minnesota, between 2012 and 2015, the latest data we have for them has reduced their homeless population by almost 10%. Here in Wisconsin, our homeless population increased by double digits during that time.

Frederica Freyberg:

What do you think the appetite is in the full legislature and the administration for putting these kinds of resources toward this issue when we're already dealing with transportation funding problems and K-12 and the university, etc.?

Lisa Subeck:

You know, it's about priorities. I think that we need to make homelessness a priority. It is costing us more right now. It is costing us more to pay for law enforcement to deal with homeless people on our streets. It's costing us more to keep homeless children in our schools and get them taxi cabs or other transportation day-to-day as they move from night to night. It is costing us so much more not to address the problem than it would to actually address the problem so the appetite certainly should be there.

Frederica Freyberg:

Representative Lisa Subeck. Thanks very much.

Lisa Subeck:

Thank you for having me.

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