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Supreme Court to rule on homelessness and the impact the decision could have in Northeast Wisconsin

Supreme Court to rule on homelessness and the impact the decision could have in Northeast Wisconsin
Posted at 10:35 PM, Jun 04, 2024
  • The U.S. Supreme Court is set to deliver a pivotal decision regarding the nation's homeless population this month.
  • 10% of the homeless population in Wisconsin lacks adequate shelter.
  • John, an anonymous resident of Appleton: Shares his experience of sleeping in bushes and parking ramps while on the waitlist for shelter.

This month, the U.S. Supreme Court is set to deliver a pivotal decision regarding the nation's homeless population. The court is considering whether cities can punish people for sleeping outside when there are not enough shelter beds available. This ruling could have a significant impact on homeless policies nationwide and in our local communities.
According to a report by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), there are 180,000 more people in need of shelter than there are beds available in the United States. In Wisconsin, 10% of the homeless population lacks adequate shelter.

“John,” a resident of Appleton who asked not to be identified, is part of that 10%.

He shares his experience of homelessness:

"I just slept in bushes. I've slept in the parking ramp," John said.

John is one of the many individuals on the waitlist for shelter. He explains the challenges faced by the homeless in the area:

"If you're homeless and you just sleep in the park, they ticket you for trespassing, and then if you get caught again sleeping in a park... they give you a trespassing. So, it could lead up to, you know, jail time for criminal trespassing."

According to HUD, homelessness in the U.S. rose by 12% last year. The Supreme Court is now considering if ticketing homeless people in cities without enough shelter beds violates the 8th Amendment, which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment.

Lisa Strandberg, Executive Director of Pillars, Inc, states that their facility accommodates 135 people nightly. However, the demand continues to rise.

"For an individual seeking shelter, it generally takes seven to 10 days to access a bed," Strandberg explains. “For a family, the weight is typically a bit more depending on the size.”

Pillars Inc. partners with surrounding counties to meet the growing need, but keeping up with the demand is challenging.

"One of the questions that comes up is why not build another shelter? The challenge there is that the exit from shelters is housing, and that's where the shortage is."

The city of Appleton is actively working on building more affordable housing options, but solving homelessness is a complicated issue.

Brianna McCauley, Community Health Supervisor for the city of Appleton, emphasizes the collaborative effort,

"It's not just Appleton. It's not the Fox Cities. It's not Wisconsin. We're working together with our community partners to try and address it," McCauley says.

Not ticketing people for sleeping in camps could increase the demand for more shelters both nationwide and locally.

However, McCauley adds, there are currently no plans to build an additional shelter.

The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to make a decision on this case by the end of June.