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Homelessness in Brown County: More work ahead

By Heather Graves

As I sit in my office prepping for this week’s issue, which includes an update on the state of homelessness in Brown County and the struggles the area homeless population face as St. John’s Homeless Shelter, the area’s last-resort, seasonal shelter, closes its doors for the season.

I can’t help but be distracted by the Disregarded series editions hanging on my walls.

The struggles lived, the lives changed, the impacts made by the individuals in each of these stories came flooding back.

A couple living in a tent in a wooded area of Howard with literally no other options for a place to call home.

A mother sharing a one-room space with her five children (one of whom is in a wheelchair) after leaving an unhealthy relationship.

A man who doesn’t want to live on the street, but whose mental health issues affect his ability to find stable housing.

Individuals with serious medical struggles living in a city park because they aren’t able to find a shelter able to accommodate their needs.

A man back on the street holding the same “Homeless anything helps” sign he had in the fall, because, although he found shelter briefly, he has yet to get back on his feet.

A man, who took up residence in a bush near the railroad tracks in downtown Green Bay all last summer, finally broke down and entered a shelter, because the winter temperatures in Wisconsin were just too cold to stay outside, struggling daily with the confined accommodations of shelter life.

Having the opportunity to share this incredibly important topic and these remarkable people’s stories with our readers over six weeks earlier this year is one of my proudest and most rewarding projects as a journalist.

Knowing the stories brought the issue of homelessness, which has often been fought in the shadows – only exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic – into the spotlight, even for a few short weeks, was a fulfilling accomplishment.

However, the work isn’t done.

The problems in July, in November and in January still remain.

As Paul Van Handel, Newcap’s Homeless Outreach Team (HOT) coordinator, former Green Bay Police officer and longtime advocate of the homeless, said in the series’ fifth installment from the Feb. 4 issue in reference to the opening of St. John’s shelter season – “Are we hiding them now for the next six months, and are we going to wait for them to come out? (Are) we scratching our heads and going, ‘Gee, our most serious, chronic, homeless people are back on the street or in the park,’ and we repeat this whole process again.”

Those six months are up, and many of the same issues of homelessness persist.

Awareness, solutions, compassion, collaboration and empathy are still needed.

When we wrapped the series in mid-February, The Press Times, in partnership with Newcap, created the Fresh Start Homeless Fund – a fundraising effort aimed at getting resources to those who know the most effective and impactful ways to help the area’s homeless get back on their feet and make strides to a successful and self-sufficient life – the boots on the ground, have you.

Whether it’s a hotel stay before a job interview in order to allow that person to go to the interview prepared, well-rested and confident; or a bus pass to get to a doctor’s appointment or to work; or a gift card for gas so an individual living in their car can afford to keep the heat on at night – even the littlest things can provide the most impactful outcomes.

The Press Times contributed seed money to the fund, and we look to our readers to join the cause.
Solutions take time, people and money to get them off the ground.

We may not know what those solutions are, but that doesn’t mean the work to find them should stop.
Let’s solve homelessness in Brown County together.

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