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JONAH’s Affordable Housing Task Force Statement regarding City of Wausau’s Fine on Homelessness

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If you would like to make your voice heard on this issue, find the contact information for the Wausau City Council and government officials here: http://www.ci.wausau.wi.us/Departments/CityCouncil/Alderpersons.aspx

JONAH’s Affordable Housing Task Force 
Statement regarding City of Wausau’s fine on homelessness

As the Co-chair of the JONAH Affordable Housing Task Force, we were extremely disappointed to read that Wausau city officials passed an ordinance that fines individuals for sleeping in parking ramp stairways. 

Members of the Public Health and Safety committee advanced the proposal, citing that some people “feel unsafe when they step over homeless people.” We wonder if the members of the Health & Safety committee considered the health & safety of the individuals who are forced to seek shelter from the elements in a public stairway? If they did, they reached the wrong conclusion, because the answer to both issues is not to levy fines against the homeless and vulnerable, but to provide them with safe shelter. 

How did committee members imagine this working to solve the problem of people sleeping in public places? The Police Deputy Chief told the committee that current practice is to ask people to “move along.” Move along to where? If the warming center is closed or full, and public areas are not an option, then where shall a person without a home of their own place their head at night? Should they seek dark, isolated areas where they can’t be seen? Would that satisfy our privileged desire to not be confronted with homelessness in our own communities?

Homeless individuals who hide in isolated corners in order to avoid being rousted by officials are a target for predators, for hate crimes, for rape and assault. In Denver, CO the policy of breaking up encampments led to the death of Michael Alvarado, who sought sleep and shelter in an alleyway, and was killed by a hit-and-run driver. His is not an isolated case. 

We should never criminalize homelessness. We should never enact policies or ordinances that exacerbate poverty. We should take care that our response to homelessness does not punish the vulnerable. The Wausau City Council made the wrong choice.

We ask our state legislators to enact statewide policies that prohibit criminalization of poverty and homelessness. We can do better than this. We can work to ensure that all of our neighbors have safe and affordable housing. 

Judi Moseley, co-chair
Susan Wolfgram, co-chair
Paul Savides, founder


If you would like to make your voice heard on this issue, find the contact information for the Wausau City Council and government officials here: http://www.ci.wausau.wi.us/Departments/CityCouncil/Alderpersons.aspx