From the Publisher: Stand up for the Invisible Ones
If you are a regular reader of this column, you may have noticed that the plight of the homeless has my special attention. They are on my mind again this week – Assembly Bill No. 604 is in the news.
One of the most prominent features of AB 604 is that it specifies where people can and cannot sleep outdoors.
On the surface that might seem to make sense – we wouldn’t want people sleeping on the steps of City Hall, right? But the problem is that if you are caught breaking this law, you can be fined $500, jailed for 30 days, or both. This is incongruous with previous legislation passed aimed at helping homeless persons transition to stability.
The bill also tasks local governments with creating camps for homeless people. It provides some money to that end, but withholds the full amount needed until it is known whether the number of homeless people has declined.
If a homeless person gets caught sleeping where they shouldn’t be, how are they going to pay that fine?
If we lock that person up for 30 days, have we helped solve their homelessness problem?
If a struggling local government only receives part of the money needed to get the job done, aren’t we setting them up for failure?
To me, this sounds like it will add an additional burden to the backs of homeless people – fines and jail time – while simultaneously controlling local governments from the State Capitol.
Veterans suffering from PTSD need housing, jobs, and health care. Adults with mental illness or a history of being assaulted or abused need multiple levels of intervention.
And sometimes people just need a temporary support while coping with an unexpected shock – a job loss, an eviction, the death of a loved one. What they don’t need is a stiff fine and a jail term. That’s just not going to help.
We have a moral duty as Wisconsinites and human beings to help our brothers and sisters who don’t have a place to sleep or money for their next meal. To most of us, they are invisible, we just aren’t aware of their suffering.
We can’t let things stay that way. We have to find a way to help them – with kindness, compassion, understanding, and insight. Not with fines and jail time.
Please call the Legislative Hotline at 800-362-9472 to tell your State Senator or Representative to vote “No” on AB 604.
Patrick J. Wood