Advocates say important work remains
MADISON — This Friday, November 29, marks the two-year anniversary of the passage of a city resolution declaring housing a human right in Madison. In the intervening years, while some progress has been made to reduce homelessness in the city, advocates say much work remains to be done.
On that day, Madison City Council resolved, “that housing be recognized as a human right and that all people who desire a place of shelter and stable long-term housing be prioritized to have this basic need met both temporarily and permanently.” Dane County passed a similar resolution in July of 2012, documenting the problem of homelessness and creating benchmarks for success in the coming years towards making housing a human right.
Since then, city, county and state funding has been added to decreasing budgets to protect the health and personal safety of homeless people. This funding resulted in a temporary daytime warming shelter last winter and in the provision of restrooms, showers, and storage facilities for this winter. Additionally, funding from both city and county government has expanded winter services at multiple homeless services locations, including the placement of two case managers from The Shine Initiative at the new downtown public library branch. We applaud both the City and County's recent budgets for 2014 in relation to housing and homelessness in Madison and Dane County.
Despite these improvements, the number of both sheltered and unsheltered homeless people has risen in the last two years. In 2012, more than 3,400 people utilized Madison’s emergency shelter options. We applaud both the City and County's recent budgets for 2014 in relation to housing and homelessness in Madison and Dane County.
The Shine Initiative and numerous other homeless advocates have been pushing for city and county funding for a daytime resource center for people experiencing homelessness. Sarah Gillmore, Shine’s executive director, explained, “A comprehensive day center will provide a one-stop shop for all the resources a person might need to overcome their homelessness. We seek to serve the most vulnerable members of our community, with an end goal of stable, permanent housing for everyone who walks through the door.”
Funding has been allocated for both the purchase and operation of a permanent day resource center starting in 2014. However, because a location has not been secured, a day center does not yet exist, and because of an ongoing lack of affordable housing options in the community, thousands of people will face unsafe conditions this winter. Exposed to the harsh Wisconsin weather and crowded overnight shelters, homeless people are susceptible to hypothermia and other major health concerns.
Gillmore also said, “Wisconsin’s state motto is ‘Forward,’ and the city, county and state leadership has done a great job of moving forward to improve life for its most vulnerable residents. Celebrating the ‘right to housing’ anniversary must lead us to work even harder to prevent homelessness and to dedicate ourselves to ending homelessness for people already experiencing it in Madison.”
Especially vulnerable among the homeless population are people whose struggles with mental illness have made them unwelcome in some public facilities where they could previously access important resources.
Likewise, domestic violence survivors who become homeless because of violence are the fastest growing subpopulation among homeless people in Madison – with a nearly 20% increase from 2011 to 2013. The threat of winter weather and other harms associated with homelessness can send these survivors back to unsafe situations.
The city and county right to housing resolutions reflect international claims to this right; the right to housing is recognized in the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights. While the United States has received criticism from U.N. member states for its high rate of homelessness and its failure to ensure housing rights for all of its citizens, our local recognition of this helps establish a firm commitment to access to housing for all in our community.
For more information about The Shine Initiative, see www.madisonshine.org.