Wausau hires new Community Outreach Specialist to assist unhoused population

Tracy Rieger worked at Catholic Charities Warming Center since 2017
Published: Sep. 7, 2022 at 3:12 PM CDT
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WAUSAU, Wis. (WSAW) - Tracy Rieger has a passion for helping homeless populations.

She is the new community outreach specialist for the city of Wausau. Previously, an officer from the police department worked to aid those in need, but the city believes a civilian will be able to build better relationships.

Rieger has only been on the job a few days and she’s already helped two people experiencing homelessness. She helped get a mother and her 1-year-old child, as well as an older man.

“It’s amazing, I know that for the general public the number two might not sound like a big number but it’s one day at a time, one person at a time,” said Rieger.

Rieger worked at Catholic Charities Warming Center since 2017. That’s where she said she originally found her niche. That’s also when she realized the extent of the homelessness situation in Wausau.

She said homelessness is a far bigger problem that people may assume.

“We were only open for six months out of the year, Nov. 1 through April 30 and we saw over 180 unduplicated individuals come through our doors,” said Rieger.

Rieger said this past winter she saw the most people at the shelter since she started more than five years ago.

“I don’t have the answer to the ‘why?’. Except for I know we have a huge drug issue in our community,” said Rieger.

Mental health and pandemic struggles are other reasons.

“There is some sort of stigma out there that people are coming to Wausau for services because we are so resource-rich here, I would say that the majority of our homeless population are from Wausau,” said Rieger.

That’s why she plans to focus on the downtown area first.

“I will be taking the next several weeks to kind of meet people, go around town, talk to businesses and just kind of get my finger on the pulse as to what’s going on downtown,” said Rieger.

Later she hopes to work with the jail to help those who have been incarcerated. Rieger said she’s excited her new position brings with it the opportunity to make a big change.

“I love my community, I care about the people that we serve, and I’m here to make a difference,” said Rieger.

Rieger is open to suggestions on how to help. Contact the Wausau Police Department to get in contact with her.