An invisible population: Homeless in Brown County
By Heather Graves
Wikipedia defines homeless as the condition of lacking stable, safe and adequate housing.
This is nothing new.
We all know what it is.
We may even know someone – a loved one, a friend, an acquaintance – who is, or has experienced homelessness.
And no path is the same – a multitude of issues ranging from mental health, to substance abuse, to unsafe living conditions, to plain-old bad luck can land a person on the streets, in a shelter or on a friend’s couch.
New Community Shelter Chief Executive Officer Terri Refsguard says it best – there isn’t the “homeless” – this “big group of people. It’s individuals experiencing homelessness for one reason or another.”
In the blink of an eye, anyone, no matter their circumstances, could find themselves without a roof over their head – the loss of a job, an accident, a death in the family, a large unexpected expense.
Regardless of the reason, many are just one bad thing away from falling.
Green Bay is home to six shelters – St. John’s, New Community, House of Hope, Golden House, Freedom House and Safe Shelter – serving many demographics – singles, families, youth, domestic violence victims.
Yet, people are falling through the cracks.
Last summer, at least 72 people called the streets of Brown County home – individuals sleeping outside, in the elements, keeping warm or cool in whatever way they could, finding cover under trees, under bridges or in park shelters.
They face struggles many of us couldn’t even imagine – some living in third-world conditions not meant for human dwelling – and need more help than blankets and a bar of soap can provide.
Though many of those people are currently sheltered at St. John’s last resort shelter, which opened Nov. 1, if outreach doesn’t continue, if changes are not made, if steps are not taken toward success, those 72 individuals will find themselves right back on the streets come April 30.
Being housed and having a home are very different things.
Over the next several weeks, with our NEW News Lab series on homelessness – Disregarded – we aim to share with you the lived experiences of those directly affected by homelessness.
We hope these real-life, honest stories increase understanding, eliminate bias and highlight effective and productive ways to help this vulnerable population.