Dear editor,

The Wisconsin Poor People’s Campaign, Northcentral Chapter, is holding Wausau’s first Vigil for the Unhoused in the afternoon of the longest night of the year, Dec. 21, starting at 2:30 p.m. on the 400 Block of Third Street in downtown Wausau.

This is in conjunction with a national Winter Offensive organized by the National Union of the Homeless.

We will unite in remembrance, hear testimonials from impacted people, join in song, close with a candlelight vigil and prayer commemorating those whose lives have been needlessly lost due to a lack of housing, and commit, together, to ending homelessness and housing insecurity.

Hot soup and hot chocolate will be provided by the Mint Cafe, while it lasts.

Donations are encouraged. Contact us at ncwippc@gmail.com for details. 

Dr. King said: “ True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar … it comes to see the edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.”

Poverty and homelessness are not self-inflicted struggles, but instead, are a result of a system that creates them. There is no amount of charity that will end this situation, despite the most well-meaning of intentions.

Prior to COVID, there were between 8 million and 11 million people in this country who were homeless, or on the verge of homelessness, including 1.5 million children, and reports estimate that 28 million Americans could be left homeless due to pandemic-related evictions.

Over the past few years, we are aware of at least three community members who have died as a direct result of being unhoused – unfortunately, we know the actual numbers are much higher. A 49-year-old man was found dead under a semi trailer in a grocery store parking lot, where he had been seeking shelter. Another man was found frozen next to a dumpster. And a third man, who was well-loved within the community, committed suicide. His body was found floating in the Wisconsin River.

In Wausau many evictions are being processed through the courts. Over 95 percent of court decisions go to the landlord.

In Wausau we have a great need for housing, especially for disabled, low-income and working people. Prior to COVID, 400 new residences were anticipated to be needed. In addition:

  1. 336 households were overcrowded
  2. 31 percent of people lived in unaffordable housing
  3. 42 percent of renters and 21 percent of homeowners spent more than 30 percent on their rents and mortgages, respectively.
  4. Wausau leads the nation in its prevalence of substandard homes which are unsafe and terribly energy inefficient and costly. 

Currently, hundreds of Wausonians sit on a waiting list for subsidized housing .

Despite the stereotypes surrounding those who struggle with homelessness, 45 percent are working one or more jobs and can’t afford a home, many are families, military veterans, senior citizens and individuals with disabilities. 

We have the means and resources to end poverty and homelessness today – there is enough to feed, clothe and house every single human being – yet, in the richest country in the history of this planet, a conscious decision is made not to.

This is immoral and cruel. It must be challenged.

The WIPPC and NUH are organizing these actions, not just to remember and offer support, but to demand that poverty and homelessness end now.

We demand:

  • Housing security as a right for ALL.
  • Cancellation of ALL rental and mortgage debt and late fees
  • Stop evictions
  • House ALL the homeless and low income workers on the waiting list NOW
  • Determine an accurate number of unhoused individuals in our area. Official numbers don’t match boots on the ground tallies.
  • Adopt the “Housing First” model of housing security for highest impacted due to psycho-socio-economic challenges
  • Minimize reliance on the Shelter Industrial Complex. Safe, sanitary and secure homes are what’s needed.
  • Municipalities establish goals to end homelessness by 2025 and establish longterm solutions to meeting housing needs of poor and low-income workers 
  • $15 minimum wage with a raise to housing wage of $23/hour in three years. To afford a two bedroom apartment in Wisconsin one has to work 98 hours a week at minimum wage.
  • Put a stop to State Assembly Bill 604 which is a direct attack on the unhoused by criminalizing camping, requiring unrealistic criteria for funding and incentivizing “out of sight out of mind policies.”
  • Support unhoused people to organize to lift themselves. They are not helpless and most are asking for a hand up, not a hand out.

Who should pay?

  • Financial penalties for those who’ve benefited the most from the housing crisis of 2008 and COVID, especially real estate corps (Blackstone), and  Wall Street. Over 600 billionaires have accumulated over $1 trillion from the inset of COVID while millions lost their jobs and homes.
  • COVID response funding by the federal government: $41 million to Wausau and County through American Rescue Plan alone.

Because, as we say often in the PPC and our partner organizations – we need to remember the dead, but fight like hell for the living. 

Frightfully, a rapidly increasing number of working people are being pushed to one emergency away from poverty and homelessness. Technology has now proliferated into areas far beyond just automobile manufacturing, replacing workers across the board. This situation will continue, suppressing overall  wages and creating increasing numbers of permanently unemployed workers, unable to keep their heads above water. This is how a profit driven economy works.

Join with us to stand with our unhoused community members to support their needs of survival and self-sufficiency.

Lifting from the bottom will raise the rest of us facing this dehumanizing economic  trend that will, sooner than later, affect all who have to work for a living.

Bruce Grau, Northcentral Wisconsin Poor People’s Campaign, Wausau

Editor’s note: Wausau Pilot & Review gladly publishes commentary from readers, residents and candidates for local offices. The views of readers and columnists are independent of this newspaper and do not necessarily reflect the views of Wausau Pilot & Review. To submit, email editor@wausaupilotandreview.com or mail to 500 N. Third St., Suite 208-8, Wausau, Wis. 54403.