Poverty and homeless youth rates on the rise in Wisconsin, Madison no exception

Rep. Chris Taylor, photo courtesy of Ting-Li WangRep. Chris Taylor, photo courtesy of Ting-Li WangThe number of homeless youth in Wisconsin is rapidly growing. Likewise, the number of children living in poverty in Wisconsin has grown dramatically in recent years.

In 2010, nearly 250,000 children in Wisconsin were living below the poverty line, a 40% increase over 2005, when just over 175,000 children lived in poverty, reported the Annie E. Casey Foundation.  

Last year, 1157 kindergarten through high school students were identified as homeless by the Madison Metropolitan School System. 

“Every day we become aware of a family or unaccompanied youth who has nowhere to go,” said Jani Koester, who works with homeless students in the Madison Metropolitan School District. She said that in the last 24 years the number of homeless students has grown every year.

Madison does not currently have an emergency youth shelter. The nearest one is in Milwaukee. 

“The shelters are full. The waiting lists are long. We are finding that families are doubled up with other families due to economic hardship are our largest group of homeless families,” Koester said. “Sixty-five percent of our [homeless] families are doubled up.”

“Madison needs a shelter for these youths. They need a safe and caring place where they can ground themselves to continue their education,” she said.

Koester spoke at a September 12 press conference sponsored by Rep. Chris Taylor (D-Madison). Taylor said she will propose legislation in early 2013 to raise the statutory limit for stays in emergency youth shelters from 15 days to 28 days and to fund more emergency youth shelters in the state. She said that the current 15 day statutory limit on stays in emergency youth shelters does not allow enough time for the youth to get the help they need. Taylor said she hopes to get bi-partisan support for the legislation.

“I don’t think it is a surprise to anybody that as poverty increases in our state -- now almost one in five children lives in poverty – that we have seen an increase…in children who are homeless,” Taylor said.

Ken Taylor, executive director of the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families spoke at the press conference. He said that although Wisconsin is now ranked 15th and is in the top third of all states in rankings of child well-being, the most recent rankings by the Annie E. Casey Foundation show that Wisconsin has slipped in 11 of 15 categories used to measure child well-being.

 “In order for us to remain a top-tier state and to be a great place to live and learn and work and raise a family, we need to reverse these trends,” Taylor said.

He added that Wisconsin children living in high poverty neighborhoods in the state is increasing at three times the national average and that the number of children living in poverty is increasing at twice the national average. He said the housing burden for families has grown 13% between 2005 and 2010.

 Mike Basford, chair of the Dane County Homeless Service Consortium, said there has been a 21% increase in youths who are using the emergency shelters in Wisconsin between 2010 and 2012. Basford spoke at the September 12 press conference as well.

In 2012, between Jan. 1 and Aug. 31, more than 3,500 children in families and 166 unaccompanied youths used the shelters. In 2010, during the same time period, almost 2900 children in families and 143 unaccompanied youths used the shelters, according to statistics compiled by the Wisconsin State Department of Administration.

In Madison, for example, a daily count taken in July of 2011 and 2012 of sheltered and unsheltered families with children and unaccompanied youth living in places not meant for habitation, in emergency shelters, or in transitional housing increased from 237 households in 2011 to 324 households in 2012, according to figures compiled by the Dane County Homeless Service Consortium. This figure does not include families which have doubled up with friends or family because of hardship. Such families constitute a large segment of the homeless population.

 A video of the press conference may be viewed here.