Letter to the editor published in the Cedarburg News Graphic, September 1, 2015 (subscription required)
Over the past nine years a group of non-profits in Ozaukee County have been working to end homelessness through a homeless prevention program. This group, the Ozaukee County Continuum of Care, has noticed a sharp rise in the number of individuals and families seeking assistance in order to stay in their homes. These are not people who are living above their means or who are looking for a handout but rather people who are working or living on a fixed income who because of an illness, a car repair or other unforeseen circumstance find themselves close to being evicted.
We are blessed in this county to have very few incidences of true homelessness during the year. In the past nine years of homeless counts, done twice a year, we have found only one person living in their car, yet we get up to 20 phone calls a month asking for one time assistance so people can stay in their homes. We understand that there are people who are doubled up, perhaps living with relatives or friends and if there are children in these families the Department of Public Instruction reports the children as homeless, which can be confusing. Ozaukee’s “homeless population” isn’t living on the streets.
In addition to those living paycheck to paycheck, there is the rise in substance abuse and the fact that 75% of our child welfare cases in Ozaukee County involves serious substance abuse, with many parents addicted to opiates or heroin; our homeless strategy needs to consider that at risk population. Having a safe haven to recover and rebuild their lives is a proactive approach in helping to prevent homelessness and will have a collective impact on the community.
At this time we have one funder to assist us with rent assistance and help people stay in their homes. United Way of Northern Ozaukee’s generous grants and understanding of the issues have made it possible for us to help 17 families so far this year and up to 30 families in years past. There are times, however, when the funds have run out and we cannot provide the assistance needed. Any state or federal funding we received mostly goes to help families at Advocates of Ozaukee, the domestic violence shelter, move into safe and secure housing.
The Continuum asks for your assistance in raising awareness about this growing and significant part of our community who is vulnerable and needs our help. We are hoping to build on the tremendous momentum we have made on homeless prevention and have fresh dialogue. Our needs analysis study is expected to be completed by the end of August. Once that data is available, it will be used as the foundation for a community conversation on how we can collectively organize our resources and create a comprehensive, sustainable strategy.
Please help us to stabilize housing in Ozaukee County so that we can say with pride that we in Ozaukee County take care of those in need and believe in everyone’s basic right to secure housing.
If your business, church group, scout group, civic group, or any organization you belong to would like to help, please contact United Way of Northern Ozaukee at email@example.com. We would welcome an opportunity to meet with your organization and discuss ways to help those in need.
Thank you from the following COC agencies,