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Groups team up on homelessness

What is Rent Smart?

Rent Smart is a free tenant training program offered through the UW-Extension office. Attendees of the 5-hour course learn about acquiring and keeping decent housing and how to be a responsible tenant. The course was designed in partnership with property managers, who look at graduates of the class as good prospective tenants. The course is not meant for only those in transitional housing. The Extension encourages anyone to take the class, before housing needs become a problem, and recommends the class for senior-level high school students, people moving out on their own, independent living participants, housing authority participants and landlords. For more information about attending or scheduling a class, contact Bridget Mouchon at Green County UW-Extension, 608-328-9440.

MONROE - Two county-wide, housing advocate groups, the Green County Housing Partnership and the Green County Homelessness Prevention Coalition, are merging this fall to streamline their efforts, increase their efficiency and, hopefully, clear up the confusion about their dual purposes.

"It just made sense," said Sue McGowan, who had been a leader on the boards of both groups.

Like McGowan, many members of the groups were doing double duty on the boards - double the meetings, double the time, double the paperwork.

In trying to create housing stability in the county, many of their efforts were overlapping, said Bridget Mouchon, the Family Living Agent with Green County UW Extension office and a board chairman of the Homelessness Prevention Coalition.

"And sometimes, (the groups' efforts) need to happen in concert," Mouchon said.

Starting this month, the Green County Council on Housing and Homelessness Prevention is coming into focus as members of both groups work to formalize their new structure, their common goals and their common mission to break down the barriers to housing for all citizens of the county.

McGowan and Mouchon perceive the merge as bringing their work back together.

Family Promise of Green County, a program supported by donations to help homeless and low income families achieve sustainable independence, is a spin-off of the Homelessness Prevention Coalition.

It will continue its work of "crisis triage," providing intensive education and face-to-face guidance to stabilize families transitioning from homelessness to permanent housing, said Kendra LaGrange, a Family Promise case worker.

"Family Promises takes a lot of people who would have otherwise gone to the county for support," Mouchon added.

The Homelessness Prevention Coalition, itself, is a spin-off of the Housing Partnership, started by a group of students in the Green County Leadership Program during the period of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. Because of its specific mission, the coalition qualified for federal and state funding through the Southwestern Wisconsin Community Action Program, when the Housing Partnership did not.

Green County Housing Partnership had, and will bring to the new group, its work to educate, support, advocate and mobilize resources for increased accessibility and affordability of safe, healthy and secure housing for all people in Green County.

Homelessness increased dramatically in Green County following the nation's economic crash in 2008.

By the end of 2012, the number of homeless and near homeless had dropped to 185 families, down from 225 families in 2011, according Green County Human Services. At the time they received services from Human Services, 55 families were homeless and the remaining 130 families were near-homeless, meaning they were facing eviction or foreclosure. The total number of individuals served was 451 - 236 adults and 215 children.

Affordable and accessible housing is not just a problem for the homeless portion of Green County's population, McGowan noted.

"Retired people and senior citizens looking to sell their home and move to an apartment can't find a place to rent," McGowan said. "Green County has plenty of good apartments for rent, but not enough good apartments for retired seniors."