Boots & Sabers

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0749, 05 Jun 16

Advocates Push for More State Spending on Homelessness

Here’s another group that is seeding the ground before next year’s budget debate for more money.

State officials say Wisconsin spends tens of millions of dollars on homelessness. But the Wisconsin Coalition Against Homelessness and local officials and providers disagree, contending that most of the money isn’t targeted directly at the issue. The state essentially has delivered no new direct funding for two decades, with the sum long stuck at about $3.3 million, the coalition says.

That sum is more than Iowa’s $1 million in direct funding, but it’s dwarfed by the $44.3 million in direct funding in Minnesota — seen as a gold standard of investment and approach in the Midwest — according to a coalition analysis from mid-2015 updated by the State Journal. In far more populous Illinois, the figure is at $49.5 million.

Wisconsin officials insist the state is doing a lot, and that funding only appears comparatively low because resources that can benefit the homeless aren’t all specifically labeled that way and flow through multiple agencies.

The coalition, forged just 18 months ago, insists more must be done. This week it is releasing “A Roadmap to Ending Homelessness in Wisconsin” with specific policy and budget recommendations.

Homelessness is a problem that has many causes. Many of the chronically homeless are mentally ill and/or drug addicts. But there are also a homeless people who end up that way due to tragic events in their lives or dire circumstances. Things like unemployment, inflation, etc. also drive homelessness. Certainly, homelessness has a devastating impact on families.

I always question when advocates highlight a problem and insist that the solution is more taxpayer money. In this case, the advocates are saying that Wisconsin doesn’t spend enough and that Minnesota is the “gold standard” for spending. Well, let’s take a look at some data.

According to this 2015 study by the National Alliance to End Homelessness (table 1.1), Minnesota has more homeless people (8,377) than Wisconsin (6,055). Minnesota also has a homeless rate that is 48% higher than Wisconsin (15.5/10,000 vs. 10.5/10,000), and Minnesota’s homeless rate is increasing while Wisconsin’s is decreasing.

So is Minnesota spending more money on homelessness because they have more homelessness?  Or do they have more homelessness because they are spending more money on homelessness? Or is there no causal relationship between government spending and the homelessness rate at all? I don’t know. But whatever the case, more taxpayer money sure doesn’t seem to be solving the problem.


0749, 05 June 2016


  1. Calvin and Hobbs

    A couple of take always from this:
    Seems on one in Wisconsin can give anything close to an accurate count on the homeless state wide, so who knows what the spending level should be.
    You might not want to put all your trust in Joe Volk, seems he has had issues while running other non-profits.

    An article in the Seattle Times last week talked about their struggle with the homeless. With about the same population as Milwaukee, best count (they do one annually) is that Seattle has 10,000 either homeless, in shelters or already placed in a semi permanent living courters. Here’s the stunning part, they spend $47,000,000 yearly on these programs. I’ll let you do the math, sounds like a lot of people are employed to see that this problem has a government run solution to it.

  2. Mark Maley

    The folks in Minnesota complain less about the cost of housing the homeless and more about not having one in their backyard

    They aren’t the Gold Standard , they are probably the right standard in terms of financially dealing with the issue

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