February 11, 2016

Lawmaker aims to change youth shelter law

The issue of poverty and homelessness is getting worse for Wisconsin youth, according to advocates. Michael Basford is chair of the Dane County Homeless Services Consortium. “This is a crisis and it direct action immediately.”

An annual average of 10,000 Wisconsin children turn up in homeless shelters, transitional living facilities, and other homeless support services, according to the Wisconsin Division of Housing. Several thousand more are unaccompanied youth — on their own without the guidance of a parent or guardian — as a result of full shelters and long waiting lists.

Jani Koester advocates for homeless families in the Madison School District. “They’re often couch surfing, on the streets, or unable to use shelter because of their age.”

We don’t see them on the streets, says Madison Democrat Chris Taylor, so the issue is an “invisible problem.”

Taylor wants to increase the amount of time homeless youth can stay in an emergency shelter from a maximum 15 days to 28, saying that will allow more time to get necessary services to the kids. She’s also seeking more state funding for emergency youth shelters; there are currently five in Wisconsin. Taylor says her Republican colleagues have found plenty of money for corporate tax breaks; and in this case, she says, it will be money well spent. “It is an economic issue for us to make certain that we’re providing the services so that these kids have an opportunity, so they go on to be able to get a good paying job, they go on to be able to support themselves and become members who contribute to our society.”

The next legislative session starts in January.

AUDIO: Jackie Johnson report 1:40

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