With wind chill plunging, it's hard not to see cruelty in GOP homeless bill | Opinion

Kristin Brey
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

I’m not going so far to say cruelty is the point, but moving forward with a bill that includes fining and jailing unhoused people right as Wisconsin winter hits, certainly doesn’t come across as compassionate.

Last week, there was a public hearing for a Republican authored bill that would withhold some grant money to homelessness programs until they meet certain requirements, such as getting individuals experiencing homelessness off the streets, keeping them at the agency, and helping them find jobs.

The bill also includes a plan for structured camping facilities and bringing regulations to areas known as “tent cities” where so many homeless people congregate. Anyone who stays outside a municipality’s structured area could be fined up to $500 or spend a month in jail.

Cause why spend public money on housing people when you could spend that same public money on jailing them?

Homeless bill sounds like it came out of Charles Dickens novel

It’s a little late for "A Christmas Carol" references but the lawmakers at the hearing, Rep. Alex Dallman, R-Green Lake, and Sen. Cory Tomczyk, R-Mosinee, sounded a little like pre-ghost Ebenezer Scrooge when he said “Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses?”

The bill was introduced because the authors feel that spending on current homelessness programs have “little accountability, inconsistent outcomes and minimal incentive to innovate.”

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And then one of the authors mixed up correlation with causation by saying “As a result, homelessness in Wisconsin, like in many places across the country, is getting worse.”

Really? It's the programs’ fault that homelessness is getting worse? It's not that fact that:

  • Rents are rising way faster than wages?
  • We haven’t built enough housing let alone affordable housing?
  • Pandemic aid programs that helped keep many people housed are gone?
  • Mental health and substance abuse cases are sharply rising, two things that can make it pretty hard to get and keep a job?
  • Over the last decade, Wisconsin lawmakers dramatically rewrote rental law to favor landlords over tenants?

Weird how many of our lawmakers were landlords themselves when these laws were written. But yes, the homeless programs not innovating are to blame. 

Kristin Brey is the "My Take" columnist for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.