Ending Chronic Homelessness Good Cause if Racial Parity Achieved

By Robert Miranda, Editor, Wisconsin Spanish Journal

A few weeks ago, Milwaukee media blew up the town with news reports bellowing the narrative that a plan eliminating chronic homelessness in Milwaukee County in three years is being implanted by our local government officials.

Some call the plan “ambitious” and some label it “fantastical,” but the goal to coordinate a collaborative strategy by county and city officials is sound and should be supported by the community, especially the business community.

I met with Health and Human Services Director for Milwaukee County, Hector Colon to talk about the plan.

Our meeting came about after a few Facebook exchanges highlighting what I felt was a flaw in the plan.

After reading a report published by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (MJS), this part of the story raised a red flag I could not ignore.

The MJS report stated: “The community prosecutor would help identify homeless people and panhandlers in downtown and differentiate between those who need help and those committing criminal activity, said Kent Lovern, Milwaukee County chief deputy district attorney”.
http://m.jsonline.com/business/officials-unveil-plan-to-combat-panhandling-homelessness-downtown-b99517947z1-307075491.html

I met with Colon at his office where he shared information regarding, not only what he was doing to end chronic homelessness, but also what was going on at Health and Human Service.

Colon is without question enthusiastic, knowledgable and ambitious. I mean that in a good way.

Colon’s work at HHS is guided by the influence of the Milwaukee County Executive. As long as Colon moves forward with Milwaukee County Executive Abele’s vision, Colon should have no trouble being successful transforming HHS into a top rate quasi-government operation overseeing much of the services its corporate and non-profit partners will be contracted by the County to do.

Getting back to the proposal to end chronic homelessness. Colon informs me that he is tasked with ensuring that 300 individuals defined as “chronically homeless” are no longer chronically homeless. He said it’s the moral thing to do and it saves the County money and resources. Good cause for getting people off the street who have been homeless for a long time.

Colon stated the annual $1.8 million cost of the program would come from the reallocation of already existing funds, largely rental assistance funds, which include $900,000 from the county and about $900,000 from the city and its Housing Authority.

I get it. Yes, the plan is sound and doable. However, that part where “…The community prosecutor would help identify homeless people and panhandlers in downtown and differentiate between those who need help and those committing criminal activity…” still troubled me.

I asked Colon what did the plan have in place to prevent a racial disparity gap between those who got help, and those being sent to jail. Was there any data being gathered? What internal check and balance would be employed to ensure racial parity?

Colon assured me that data gathering was being developed in order to prevent such issues from happening.

Colon went on to say that collecting such data is important to be able to identify if in fact homeless people are being treated differently based on race when their circumstances appear similar.

Well, this is Milwaukee where racial inequality, racial profiling, and black unemployment is double white counter-parts; where the House of Corrections houses more blacks and Hispanics than any other; where blacks are the most disproportionately counted as homeless, all lead me to be skeptical. But, without real data in hand, all one can do is highlight this concern to the people behind this plan and wait to see if in fact they collect the data and truly seek to achieve the racial parity that is needed to make this a truly successful effort.

Indeed, there is a real effort on paper to help our most needy. There is a commitment by County Executive Abele, Dir. Hector Colon and Mayor Tom Barrett to do the moral right thing and improve the quality of life for many of the homeless in this community.

Nevertheless, the jury is still out on whether or not this is going to be a round up of black and hispanic homeless people ending up in the big house, instead of their own house.

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Last edited by Tyler Schuster.   Page last modified on June 25, 2015

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