Homeless count more than doubles in Portage County

Total goes beyond shelters’ bed-capacity even before cold weather sets in
Published: Aug. 5, 2021 at 6:59 PM CDT
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STEVENS POINT, Wis. (WSAW) - Portage County advocates for people who are facing homelessness are concerned after they found more than double the number of people sleeping on the street in their latest count.

The Point in Time Count happened last week. Typically the county sees anywhere from zero to six people during the count; this time they found 16.

“We found the most I’ve ever found in this community,” Ed Wilson, the Stevens Point Salvation Army director of operations said.

“Seeing 16 is really scary seeing that when we open in October-November, we don’t have enough beds for them,” Tiffani Krueger, the co-chair of Evergreen Community Initiatives noted.

Wilson stated the Salvation Army’s shelter can normally house 46 individuals, but they have been operating at half-capacity over the pandemic at the health department’s recommendation. The year-round shelter, he said, largely remained at about that 23 maximum capacity, but that is less than what they see in a typical winter.

“Our guess is that the folks found places, maybe family or friends would let them stay with them because of the COVID situation,” he explained. “I know we had one particular person that (sic) was staying in (sic) a porch at one of their friend’s homes.”

The Warming Center, which opened five years ago to help with overflow from the Salvation Army’s shelter during the winter, noticed a decline this past winter too. Krueger said for the first time, the 12-bed center was closed half of the season because they did not have people who needed the space.

However, those needs have turned, and Portage County’s eviction moratorium will not lift for another two months.

Jennifer Leck, Stevens Point Salvation Army’s housing case manager said most people she has worked with are having trouble keeping up with their rent for a variety of reasons, some due to pandemic impacts. She explained her first priority, however, is to ensure people keep the housing they currently have or find housing for people without a home. Then, she works to figure out and address the underlying issues keeping or causing someone to be without a home.

“We are struggling to help people find their place to live,” Leck stated.

Leck and the others noted one big impact likely adding to the spike is the closure of the Point Motel.

“(It) was one of the motels we could send them to at a very cheap cost,” Wilson said. “Now, motels anywhere from $900 on up per month, you know, gets very costly for us to even house somebody in a motel.”

That is the challenge going forward. Wilson said the rates of other places for people to stay are getting costly, and while they have some landlords that are taking in people the shelter cannot house, they need more places to go. He stated they ultimately need to expand the shelter building.

“If anybody has a giant building around, we’ll take that too,” Leck added half-jokingly.

Asking for landlords to help, he notes the Salvation Army does not just find people housing and leave; each person receives a caseworker that gets them the help they need to become financially stable for as long as it takes.

Krueger said between each shelter, they also need the community to come together to help financially as the costs of housing people outside of the shelters rise. Leck added volunteering or mentoring people is also needed to help give people the support they need.

Wilson urged now is the time for people to help, not only before it gets cold, but also while there are some extra programming and funding thanks to pandemic relief. Though, he noted that money expires in April, 2022.

NewsChannel 7 reached out to some of the surrounding counties for their Point in Time Count totals for comparison but was unable to receive those numbers in time for publishing.

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