A nonprofit in Ashland has purchased a building to turn into a homeless shelter. The community is trying to address issues with homelessness in rural northern Wisconsin.
Ashland Cares purchased an old vacant school last month for roughly $48,000 as the site of a new homeless shelter, said the nonprofit’s chairman and founder Bill Vienneau. He said they have a difficult time finding housing for people because there are few shelters, and those that do exist are often full.
“We have a huge need because we have kids right now on the street. We have families with very young children out on the street or living in cars,” Vienneau said. “People that are disabled, veterans. It’s here.”
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He said they’ve been bussing homeless people across the state to shelters in Milwaukee and Green Bay. Local nonprofits have also been spending money on vouchers to get homeless people temporary housing in hotels, Vienneau said. He hopes they can offer housing for some people at the newly purchased building as soon as this fall.
Moises Loza, executive director with the Housing Assistance Council, said it’s difficult to gauge the number of homeless people in rural areas because there are few shelters where people can go.
“In rural areas unlike urban areas, because there’s a lack of shelters, what we find often times is that people double up. People maybe sleep on someone’s couch,” he said. “Those people have a roof over their heads so in some ways may not be considered homeless. At least from our perspective, those people are not doubling up because they want to, but because they don’t have any other choice or other home.”
Loza added there is often a lack of affordable housing in rural areas because of fewer people.
“For developers to develop housing, they’ve got to have some mass. They’ve got to have some scale to make it worth their while,” he said. “The rural population, because it’s scattered or not as concentrated, does not give you the same return on the investment when you’re dealing in rural areas.”
Nearly 5,700 people in Wisconsin were homeless in January last year, according to the most recent national housing figures. Nationwide, more than half a million people were homeless. Loza estimates around 80,000 homeless people reside in rural areas.
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