Dear editor,

We in the Northcentral Chapter of the Wisconsin Poor People’s Campaign strongly support the development of a new city department independent from the police. It should be dedicated to the health and social needs of poor and low income Wausonians, comprising almost half our population, to prevent and end chronic homelessness while effectively addressing immediate needs that arise, such as shelter from frigid winter conditions.

Why do we need this department?

Let’s look at how cities responded to the Dec. 22 emergency as an example.

Keep in mind we had a recent death of an unhoused person under the Scott Street bridge in early December.

Milwaukee opened shopping and community centers, 17 in all. 

The La Crosse mayor issued an emergency declaration to open city-owned buildings as overnight shelters.

I contacted the mayor and the president of the Wausau City Council. The mayor did not respond. The president assured me the situation was in hand, based on the assessments she was given by the police and Catholic Charities Warming Center staff.

Neither of these assessments were garnered from an on-the-street assessment of the need for shelter. 

The health department was ready to act but received no command.

I know of only one group (Community Outreach Task Force) that hit the streets to find those needing shelter. They found several individuals, some couples, and a family whom they all put up in a hotel using the $3,000 they acquired in donations within two days.

The current approach taken by the city is not based on a sound assessment of the true need. This is absurd when well over 393 fellow citizens stated they faced housing insecurity throughout last year.

The current approach taken by the city relies too heavily on a sheltering model that places people into congregate spaces devoid of any privacy or respect of peoples’ attachment to their belongings, two significant needs of traumatized people.

The current approach by the city relies on structures, not systems, that, along with a trauma informed approach, are proven to heal those afflicted by chronic homelessness. Placing a person with complex needs under a roof and calling it a success, without providing multileveled support reveals ignorance and a wasteful use of our tax money.

And, in light of such need, redirecting significant amounts of ARPA money to non-Covid relief projects is heartless. The amount directed towards bubblers, light bulbs and a Visitor Center could build a self-governed, supported tiny village.

Taking some liberty quoting The Rev. Martin Luther King: “True compassion is more than providing a warm cot on a frigid night for an unhoused person, but understanding the edifice that causes homelessness needs changing.”

The job as city policymakers is to do both.

Stop the misery. End the deaths. Eliminate the need for Go Fund Me campaigns.

We need this department to expand services such as the CART team and social work assistance 24/7 as starters.

Bruce Grau, Northcentral Chapter of the Wisconsin Poor People’s Campaign

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 or mail to 500 N. Third St., Suite 208-8, Wausau, Wis. 54403.