Two copper coins

[Originally posted on Medium]

“…but she, out of her poverty, put in everything — all she had to live on.”
Mark 12:44

Fighting homelessness in Milwaukee is a commitment I made in 2015, when the number of homeless people in our community had risen to more than 1,500. Along with our County Housing division, we announced a challenging, but attainable goal: ending chronic homelessness in Milwaukee County by 2018.

It’s 2018, and we’ve almost met that goal. When we get there, it’ll be something that all of our community professionals and advocates can take pride in — because it’ll mean that we have enough resources and housing to serve our most difficult-to-reach homeless population. Every single person who engages in outreach and provides services to the homeless in Milwaukee County will be able to take a moment and celebrate the great work we’ve done together.

But I want to be clear: Anyone who thinks that celebrating a goal achieved and a challenge met is the end of our fight is flat-out wrong.

Having enough housing to cover the chronically homeless in our county is not our end game. Our next step is making sure nobody sleeps in cars, in tents or outside.

Ending chronic homelessness is not our end game. Our next step is going to be ending homelessness entirely.

I look at this chart every day, and our work won’t be done until there’s a chart that goes down to zero.

All this time that we’ve been working on ending chronic homelessness, we’ve also been working to reduce overall homelessness. Along with our community partners, we’ve seen amazing progress in the numbers. We are still putting in the work on our 2018 point-in-time count, but I can tell you that since 2015, homelessness in our County has dropped by over 40 percent.

That’s significant progress. Is it good enough? No way.

We won’t be done ending homelessness until that number reaches zero, and our eyes are on more than this chart. They’re always, always on the real people behind these numbers.

MacArthur Square, right outside the Milwaukee County Courthouse

One of my colleagues in the Courthouse shared this photo today of a scene outside the Milwaukee County Courthouse. There is a growing number of tents popping up in MacArthur Square, filled with some of the homeless men and women who are still part of the numbers on that chart. Our Housing outreach teams have been checking in on these folks for the last several weeks, every day, as early as 6 in the morning. Some of these folks we’ve been able to get inside, but we haven’t had success with everyone.

The gentlemen in the photos above are some of those living in tents in the square. My colleagues spotted them feeding bread to the geese nearby.

They don’t have a place to stay other than the tent, but they were sharing what little they have with the geese. It made me think of the Biblical story quoted above, and I am moved by their generosity.

These people are homeless. Living in tents may make them more visible, but they deserve more than tents. They deserve homes.

I’ll continue to work with anyone who is willing to join this fight and not stop until every person in Milwaukee County has the dignity of a real home.

And once we accomplish that, we’ll set a new goal.

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