Lincoln County Homelessness Task Force forms
When you think of homelessness you probably think of people sleeping on a park bench, under a bridge or, if fortunate, staying in a homeless shelter. Homelessness comes in many forms, and the above examples are certainly the more extreme instances. But homelessness, including in Lincoln County, also means people living in their vehicles, staying in a motel for an extended period of time, staying with grandparents, and sleeping at family or friends’ homes – on a couch or the floor.
In response to the homelessness issue in Lincoln County several agencies and government officials came together to form the Lincoln County Homelessness Task Force. The Task Force’s vision is “Lincoln County will change its service system from one that manages homelessness to one that prevents and ends homelessness.”
Founding agencies are the Northcentral Community Action Program (CAP), HAVEN, the Merrill Area United Way, University of Wisconsin- Extension, the Merrill Police Department, both Tomahawk and Merrill School Districts, St. Vincent DePaul, the Aging and Disability Resource Center of Central Wisconsin, the Merrill Food Pantry and the Northwoods Vineyard Church, Rhinelander.
Since the spring, the group has discussed the nature of homelessness in our county and how it can be eliminated. Some of the more important issues the Task Force is starting to address are how to:
*Increase awareness about the local homeless issue and what organizations attempting to help this population are facing
*Collaborate in the effort to solve homeless issues
*Place homeless in adequate, affordable housing
*Foster self-help skills and addressing the root causes of homelessness to prevent it from reoccurring
*Fulfill the need for transitional housing; the community, not government, must fill this void
*Make certain that the cycle of homelessness in families is broken
The Task Force recently met to identify its priorities for the coming few years and ways to strengthen the organization so its goals could be achieved. The three primary goals chosen by Task Force members are:
*Develop an accurate picture of Lincoln County homelessness
*Help connect special needs/disabled individuals recently out of school, including those with substance abuse issues, with resources and adult living opportunities that promote self-sustainability (e.g. employment, internships, volunteering, etc.)
*Develop and maintain a mentoring program for homeless families and individuals
An immediate priority of the Task Force is to create a ten year plan meant to address local homeless issues long-term and building off the initial goals that were set. A subcommittee of the Task Force is already working to collect local statistics on homelessness. This data will be used to educate the public about homelessness. The Task Force is also beginning to identify gaps in service for the homeless. Ideally, all individuals and families facing homelessness in Lincoln County would have access to safe, adequate, affordable housing and the resources and supports needed to sustain it through a comprehensive, coordinated community effort.
The Task Force has much work ahead. If you work with local homeless or are just interested in helping to address homeless issues please consider joining the Task Force. If you have questions about this initiative or want further information, please contact either Jeff Sargent at the Northcentral CAP office (715-842-0681) or Art Lersch at UW Extension (715-539-1075).