Republican bills target homelessness in Wisconsin

MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- Republican lawmakers introduced four bills Wednesday to address homelessness issues in Wisconsin.
 
One proposal from Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke and Sen. Alberta Darling would create an Interagency Council on Homelessness chaired by Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch. Council members would include the secretaries from several state agencies, officials from four organizations that serve the homeless, the state superintendent of public instruction and the executive director of the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority.
 
Legislators announced the measures at a news conference with two longtime housing advocates.
"On any given night, there are over 5,800 people in Wisconsin that don't have a place to call home," said Carrie Poser, coordinator of the Wisconsin Balance of State Continuum of Care. "They're sleeping in shelters, cars, under bridges, in caves and even in storage units."
 
She said homelessness impacts urban and rural areas alike and said the proposed bills will give communities more tools to help people find permanent housing. Poser's nonprofit organization is responsible for distributing federal housing funds to 69 of Wisconsin's 72 counties.
 
 Another measure, sponsored by Rep. Treig Pronchinske and Darling, would give the housing authority the ability to pilot a program that prioritizes chronically homeless people on the waitlist for federal housing vouchers. Pronchinske said the current waitlist contains almost 5,000 people. The bill would do nothing to address the shortage of housing approved for federal vouchers, Steineke said.
 A bill sponsored by Rep. Jessie Rodriquez and Darling would allow the Department of Administration to award grants of up to $75,000 to municipalities to help the homeless find work, but municipalities would have to contribute at least $50,000 toward the program.
 
The fourth measure, from Rep. Patrick Snyder and Darling, would remove restrictions on money allocated to transitional housing and eliminate the requirement that the Department of Administration reasonably balance grants and loans related to affordable housing among geographic areas of the state. The bill's sponsors say this will allow money to go where it most needed.
 
A spokeswoman for Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca and a spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling didn't immediately respond to requests for comments on the proposals.
 
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