Milwaukee Forces Homeless Residents to Leave Their Community

| Reproaction

By: Nataley Neuman

On October 4, residents of Tent City, a homeless encampment under highway I-794 in Milwaukee, were given an “eviction” notice from city officials to vacate by Halloween of 2019. City officials and affiliated organizations worked to get Tent City’s population into temporary or permanent housing; however, that is a huge task given the unmet demand for housing and services for the estimated 900 unhoused people who currently call Milwaukee home. [1] The eviction of homeless people from Tent City is not only a temporary and shallow solution for a much deeper problem, but it is also classist, racist, and anti-poor.

Tent City was home to roughly 100 homeless people and families. This small community earned the reputation as a safe space for homeless folks to live [4], and the growing population eventually lead to the formation of small “neighborhoods” within the community. Many people living in Tent City are veterans of surrounding homeless shelters, and many say they left because of the strict rules that some shelters employ. [5] Many residents are unhappy with the forced move, and some point to previous bad experiences with shelters as a reason to be wary of authority figures and other forms of outreach. [4] Residents of Tent City knew that the eviction notice was on its way, though when asked if the evacuation was carried out respectfully, one homeless man pointed to the orange fence and said, “do you think that’s respect?” [3]

According to the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (DOT), the reason for “evicting” almost 100 homeless people from under the highway is that camping on highways is unlawful. [2] But some homeless people speculate that this relocation was due in part to city managers wanting a ‘facelift’ for the area in anticipation of the Democratic National Convention coming to Milwaukee in the summer of 2020. The homeless population feel as though this move was a way to “push homeless people out of view of the cameras that will soon be abound in [Milwaukee’s] streets.” [4] Others claim the eviction notice as evidence that Milwaukee officials were trying to help our city’s homeless population; however, this disorganized and rushed act shows that officials view Tent City residents as a nuisance, instead of addressing homelessness as a public health issue.

Though most of Milwaukee’s leaders are praising the eviction notice, a few are speaking out against it. Alderman Khalif Rainey recently spoke out saying that “forcing individuals to relocate … doesn’t rectify the issue. It doesn’t resolve it. It just moves the issue somewhere else.” [3] City officials and outreach groups claim that they are placing residents of Tent City in temporary or permanent housing, and say that most of the homeless population has now moved out of what once was a safe haven for Milwaukee’s homeless population.

Homelessness is a multifaceted issue involving factors such as poverty, classism, racism, stigma, substance use, mental illness, and more. According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, African Americans make up more than 40 percent of the nation’s homeless population, and those who identify as Hispanic make up 21 percent of the homeless population. [6] In 2003, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration estimated that 38 percent of homeless people were dependent on alcohol and 26 percent “abused” other drugs. [7] It was also estimated by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development that 45 percent of homeless people have a mental illness, while 25 percent of the  homeless population in the United States are seriously mentally ill. [8] Though there are many solutions to address homelessness in the United States, the Sunrise House of American Addiction Centers specifically points to affordable therapy and counseling, substance use treatment, and safe housing options, among others to curb homelessness. [9]

The city of Milwaukee does provide programs that aim to combat a variety of issues that contribute to homelessness, such as IMPACT, which acts as a resource to combat chronic substance use. [10] The Department of Housing and Human Services (DHHS) has also worked to get residents of Tent City into temporary and supportive housing options after displacement. [11] In early 2019, conservatives in the state legislature proposed eight bills that sought to improve Wisconsin’s efforts to combat homelessness. [12] These bills would have doubled the state’s previous spending to combat homelessness, but the 2019 legislative session ended without legislators taking action on the proposals. [13]

The eviction of Milwaukee’s Tent City residents is a prime example of public officials using a temporary solution to fix a permanent problem. Evicting homeless people from a vacant plot of land was not only absurd, but it was an insult to those who called Tent City home.


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