By Matt Mueller Culture Editor Published Jun 13, 2015 at 6:06 AM

On Thursday morning, the Milwaukee County Housing Division and Milwaukee Downtown, BID 21 held a symposium with the Downtown business community at ManpowerGroup World Heaquarters, located at 100 Manpower Pl., concerning homelessness and panhandling in the Downtown area.

The conference found several significant names in Milwaukee – including Mayor Tom Barrett, County Executive Chris Abele, Police Chief Ed Flynn and District Attorney John Chisholm – taking the stage to discuss the issue in a panel discussion that opened the event. The main development from the morning, however, was the elaboration of a new collaborative plan to end chronic homelessness.

"When we say ending chronic homelessness in three years, we’re serious," said James Mathy, Milwaukee County Housing Division administrator.

The initiative – originally brought forward by Barrett, Abele and the Milwaukee County Housing Division at a news conference on Tuesday at the site of the in-progress Thurgood Marshall Apartments, which will provide 24 units of supportive housing – closely follows the philosophy of Housing First, a concept presented to the symposium crowd by keynote speaker Dr. Sam Tsemberis, founder of Pathways to Housing.

The Housing First concept focuses in on permanent housing as the solution to chronic homelessness. The philosophy provides immediate access to permanent housing with additional wraparound case management support services, based on the idea that a homeless person’s most pressing and primary goal is stable housing. According to Dr. Tsemberis, the program’s principles "shift the focus from managing homelessness to ending homelessness."

The goal is, instead of relying on a system of compliance like many systems, to guide chronically homeless individuals off the street and toward self-sufficiency with permanent housing while still providing the supportive services needed for recovery. Dr. Tsemberis noted that if cities wait to completely cure issues like addiction or substance abuse in chronically homeless individuals, "we’ll never get these people housed." In fact, in the Housing First philosophy, relapse is anticipated, but it's viewed as a clinical problem, not a housing problem. 

When utilized in other states – such as in Utah, where chronic homelessness declined by 72 percent since 2005 – the model’s data shows successful outcomes for the city, the chronic homeless and public service costs. 

"The goal is a life of meaning," said Dr. Tsemberis to the symposium crowd.

The Housing Division’s plan for Milwaukee’s chronic homeless takes much from the Housing First philosophy, aiming to serve 300 individuals and get them housing through scattered site units. According to Mathy, the initiative is ready to go beginning July 1 and is already fully funded, with the $1.8 million cost in rental assistance and supportive services coming from County tax levy, annual budget allocation and contributions by the city.

In addition to the Housing First-influenced chronic homelessness plan, the Milwaukee County Housing Division, the offices of both the city and district attorneys, and Milwaukee Downtown BID 21 presented an additional collaborative effort with the downtown area. The goals of the collaborative effort include providing immediate access to diversion services to the business community and a consistent presence in the downtown area for working with homeless concerns.

As currently proposed, the new collaboration would feature three additional strategies. For one, the plan would add a community prosecutor for downtown, who would partner with the Milwaukee Police Department, homeless outreach programs and municipal courts through the Housing Division, focus on nuisance behaviors in the area and work not just to prosecute but to improve the quality of life in the area. Secondly, the plan calls for the addition of a homeless outreach worker, staffed by the county, who would serve as the go-to first contact for those downtown needing help with homeless-related issues. The last component is the opening of a new homeless resource center to serve alongside the new 24-unit supportive housing development.

The three-prong additional collaboration is still looking for about $233,000 annually in order to be put into action. During Thursday’s conference, Milwaukee Downtown BID 21 CEO Beth Weirick addressed the business leaders in the room and asked them to consider helping to privately fund the additional three strategies. 

Matt Mueller Culture Editor

As much as it is a gigantic cliché to say that one has always had a passion for film, Matt Mueller has always had a passion for film. Whether it was bringing in the latest movie reviews for his first grade show-and-tell or writing film reviews for the St. Norbert College Times as a high school student, Matt is way too obsessed with movies for his own good.

When he's not writing about the latest blockbuster or talking much too glowingly about "Piranha 3D," Matt can probably be found watching literally any sport (minus cricket) or working at - get this - a local movie theater. Or watching a movie. Yeah, he's probably watching a movie.