By Dan Colton
for The Beacon
With Thanksgiving around the corner, one local organization is launching an effort to help the homeless.
The Lakeshore Action Program consists of agencies in Sheboygan, Manitowoc, Door and Kewaunee counties. The nonprofit organization works with individuals and families through various programs, including housing assistance. Leaders of Lakeshore CAP (Community Action Program) say they’re now expanding throughout the communities on a campaign to raise awareness in local shops and establishments.
Abby Ries, supportive housing outreach coordinator for Lakeshore CAP, said informational posters are being printed and distributed around town. She said the posters are aimed at informing the homeless and to let other residents know how they can get involved and help out.
“In the week before Thanksgiving, essentially what we’re doing through Lakeshore CAP is we’re going to be making signs with statistics, facts … and distributing them throughout Sheboygan and Manitowoc counties in places that they might be available for our service population and our general population,” Reis said. “The hope is … to bring awareness and compassion and connections to individuals experiencing homelessness … and give people experiencing homelessness information on where they can go for help.”
According to Reis, the organization in July identified about 30 people who currently are living on the streets around Sheboygan. She notes that the count is likely incomplete, and that more people are in serious need of housing assistance.
She said helping out with basic needs – including shelter – is often what people need to get back on-track. The dissemination of information on Lakeshore CAP’s services, Reis said, is a key component to get people the assistance they need.
“Esstentially, the idea is if you give somebody that basic needs of housing and give them the resources to make them feel safe, they can focus on other things,” Reis said. “They’re also partnered with a case manager to help set up goals and learn healthy relationships and learn balance and kind of be accountable and feel empowered.”
The posters will be placed around several locations in Sheboygan, including Mead Public Library, Lakeshore Technical College, Greenseeds Studios, cafes and restaurants.
“We wanted some places … that our (homeless) population and a lot of people go to in general in Sheboygan or the Sheboygan area that a lot of people would see,” Reis said.
Reis said she believes sentiments and stigmas surrounding homelessness are changing, and people are more interested than ever to help the less fortunate.
That’s a major reason why this new effort is expected to produce results.
She said there’s also been a rise in family homelessness rather than a single adult living on the streets. And while homelessness looks different from community to community – for instance, she said the situations are different in Kewaunee County compared to Sheboygan County – there are people in need everywhere.
Common causes of homelessness include a rise in rent and the prevalence of high-end apartment buildings instead of affordable-housing developments.
But she has hope that, in general, folks are looking to help out.
“There’s starting to be a change in mindset …and understanding it has a lot more to do with trauma and a little less stigma behind hit,” Reis said.
Reis said that there are many ways to help Lakeshore CAP, and one of the methods is to support elected officials who’re dedicated to fighting back against homelessness. She said multiple bills are being considered by state legislators, and she suggests contacting Madison lawmakers with messages of support of Senate Bill 119, Senate Bill 120, Senate Bill 121, Senate Bill 122, Senate Bill 123, Senate Bill 124, Senate Bill 144 and Senate Bill 145.
According to Reis, if the bills pass, an additional $3.75 million will be available for state agencies working to eradicate life on the streets. She said prevention and diversion tactics would see improvement, as well as housing-quality inspections to ensure people are living in acceptable conditions.
“When we provide housing assistance, we need to make sure the houses are safe and inhabitable,” she said. “…Another piece of that funding would go towards what’s called a housing navigator, someone who can build connections with landlords to make sure they understand our programs, that clients and landlords are compatible and make sure we have landlords that are appropriate for our system,” she said. Reis said there are many homelessness is manifested. While Sheboygan may have more people literally sleeping on the streets, communities and Kewaunne and Door counties have unique issues of their own. That requires a number of tactics to solve the problem — including raising awareness throughout the community.
“Homelessness can look different,” Reis said, saying that Sheboygan benefits from the Salvation Army homeless shelter. Other Door County and Kewaunne communities within the Lakeshore CAP have to transport homeless people to Green Bay for shelter.
Reis said the posters were printed Monday and will be set up soon.
In order to fix the problem, it’s important to realize the complicated issue of homeless does exist in our communities.