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Helping the homeless
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MONROE - Green County has a real homelessness problem, according to the Homelessness Prevention Coalition (HPC) of Green County, and it is seeking real solutions.

"With the recession, the numbers (of homeless people) have increased," said Bridget Mouchon, Green County UW-Extension Family Living agent.

Kris Wisnefske, Parish Nurse Coordinator at The Monroe Clinic said some people are even struggling to find a place to live.

"People are living in cars, clinic waiting rooms and the libraries," she said.

Mouchon and Wisnefske are co-chairs of the HPC, which is pulling together public agencies, community organizations, churches and volunteers to provide temporary emergency housing.

The lack of money and jobs is taking a toll on the support network of family and friends, which people usually turn to in time of need, Mouchon said.

"Where jobs are lost, such as the GM plant closing in Janesville, there is a domino effect, touching people who not only work at the plant, but in businesses that supported the industry," she said.

The homeless problem is spread across the Green County.

"What we've seen are in Monroe, Brodhead and Albany," Wisnefske said.

The total number of people who are literally "on the street" is difficult to estimate, Mouchon and Wisnefske said, because of the various agencies, which help the homeless, and because some people are temporarily being put up by friends and family.

The cost of helping people, however, is easier to determine.

Most of the cost comes from handing out motel vouchers. Several government departments and organizations have developed relationships with local motels, which take the vouchers at below normal rates.

But it's still a lot of money, said Mouchon.

As of Dec. 2, about $200,000 has been spent this year for emergency housing in Green County. Included in that amount is $75,000 from the Homeless Prevention and Rapid Re-housing program funded through the federal stimulus package, along with funds from Salvation Army, St. Vincent de Paul and Green County Human Services.

Green County has spent $67,000 so far this year for emergency shelter, but has decreased that budget item to $60,000 for 2010.

The coalition is currently filing for non-profit status, under the umbrella of Southwest Wisconsin Community Action Program. They have also passed a motion to have SWCAP proceed with writing a grant requesting on their behalf for about $600 per month for the establishment of a homeless facility in Green County, with SWCAP providing case management.

Until the Coalition's fundraising is up and running, it is relying on its member organizations to continue providing the immediate housing needs for the coming winter.

That is good news for families with children and the elderly, who have access to more services, said Mouchon.

The people who are in danger of literally being out on the streets are middle-aged people without kids - mostly men and many military veterans.

"They have the most problem accessing help and who have no support," Mouchon added.

Even without a recession, there will always be a contingency of people needing to find affordable housing, according to Mouchon and Wisnefske.

Agencies and volunteers gathering under the HPC hope the joint effort will help them do a better job, and get them the funding they need.

"We discovered we have a bigger need than we first thought," Mouchon said.

For more information on joining the Homelessness Prevention Coalition, contact the UW -Extension office at 328-9440.