Wisconsin Republicans propose bill to criminalize living on public property
Housing advocates criticize the measure as targeting homeless individuals
LA CROSSE, Wis. (WKBT) — Wisconsin Republicans have introduced a bill that would criminalize living on public property.
The Assembly bill would make living on public property a misdemeanor, punishable by up to 30 days in jail or a $500 fine — an amount that homeless people cannot afford.
“There are all kinds of reasons I would not support that bill,” said Couleecap Housing Director Kim Cable.
She said she was shocked when she heard about the proposal.
“It’s missing the mark as a way to help people who are without housing for many reasons,” said Cable, who has worked at Couleecap and helped the homeless for more than 15 years..
Couleecap and other resource agencies have been working for years to reduce La Crosse’s homeless population.
Cable, who says the proposed bill will set them back, argues that homeless people need help instead of punishment.
“The problem here locally is that we actually have waiting lists for our programs that support people without housing,” said Cable.
La Crosse has a significant homeless population, said State Rep. Jill Billings, D-La Crosse.
A bill such as this would hurt not only the homeless but also the criminal justice system, she said.
“Are we going to house these people in jail?” Billings said. “That’s pretty expensive right there. Also, I’m guessing a homeless person doesn’t have the money to pay a $500 fine, so what are the courts going to do with that?”
The bill also would designate around $300,000 for housing navigators, but Cable says that’s not enough.
“People in the community need access to resources and were severely lacking in that, and most communities across the state are,” Cable said.
News 8 Now reached out to Rep. Alex Dallman, one of the bill sponsors.
The Green Lake Republican said the bill is intended to look after the health and safety of the homeless population by providing them a location that ensures clean water, public safety and access to housing opportunities.
Cable says criminalizing the homeless is not keeping them healthy or safe.
Its authors also say the bill provides resources that individuals and families can use to secure permanent housing and employment.
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