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Working to combat hunger and homelessness

November 24, 2015

NATIONAL HUNGER & HOMELESSNESS AWARENESS WEEK logo

Rep. Sean Duffy recently organized his third-annual Hunger and Homelessness Summit on Nov. 9 in Rothschild to bring together people from throughout central Wisconsin – government, business, individuals and non-profit folks – to discuss hunger and homelessness. More than 100 people participated, and I attended the summit to participate in discussions and learn about other community efforts that may help some of the patrons we serve at the library. As we gather with our families and friends in our homes to share holiday meals, I thought this would be a good time to share information not only from the summit, but also about available library resources.

The need for overnight shelter and food assistance has steadily increased over the past five to seven years, according to the United Way of Marathon County. In 2014, the Salvation Army, The Women’s Community and the Wausau Community Warming Center provided a combined 20,000 nights of lodging. And in 2013, the Marathon County Hunger Coalition met more than 100,000 requests for food assistance.
 
The library offers a wide range of resources to help individuals and families who are struggling financially, including those facing homelessness and unemployment. First, all library resources – books, movies, music, programming – are free with a library card (and you don’t even need a library card to attend programs). Anyone looking for a job can find at just about any MCPL location books on resumes, job trends and life skills, or use one of several computers at MCPL Wausau set aside specifically for job searching – no card required and no time limit. We also maintain a list of different job engines here - http://mcpl.us/research/jobs. We also have a variety of career exams, software tutorials, GED test preparation and ways to build reading, writing and math skills through Learning Express Library 3.0 in the online resources section of our website.
 
Throughout the winters, MCPL Wausau is a designated warming center in the city, giving people a centrally located place to get inside and warm up from the cold. While we are happy to help anyone shake the chill from their bones, all we ask is that all patrons abide by the library’s behavior policy - http://mcpl.us/about/policies/pdf/AMPRO-57.AMP.pdf - which includes prohibitions on sleeping, the consumption of alcohol on the premises or entering the library intoxicated.
 
Secretary Julian Castro of the federal Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Department gave the keynote speech at the Hunger and Homelessness Summit, and said the United States is in the midst of an affordable housing crisis. Castro spoke about programs like the HOME Investment Partnerships Program that provides states and municipalities with funding toward building, buying or rehabbing a home, or toward direct rental assistance to low-income individuals. You can find information about the HOME program here - http://ow.ly/Ux10U and a list of different federal resources for hunger, homelessness and mental health services here - http://ow.ly/UZvrA.
 
We have a number of different local organizations working hard to provide services for low-income and homeless individuals and families, including the United Way and both the Marathon County Hunger Coalition and the Housing and Homelessness Coalition. The United Way also operates the 2-1-1 assistance hotline and publishes the annual Give and Get Help Guide, available at many Marathon County locations and online through the 2-1-1 website. Also, information about the Wausau Community Warming Center on Third Avenue - including a list of their needs - can be found here.
 
Another resource is the Wisconsin Community Action Program, which assists with literacy skills and employment training, rental assistance, revolving business loans and much more. Marathon County is served by the North Central Community Action Program - http://wiscap.org/member-agencies/north-central-cap/.
 
An eye-opening panel discussion for me was on mental health and homelessness among military veterans, and the stigma of mental illness and substance abuse that many veterans face every day. A number of different organizations, from local to federal, exist to help veterans with mental health and substance abuse treatment, as well as housing assistance, job training skills and social and emotional support. The Marathon County Veterans Service Office works between the veteran and the U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the Wisconsin Dept. of Veterans Affairs (WDVA).  In 2013, the VA provided services to more than 260,000 veterans who were either homeless or at risk of becoming homeless.
 
If you or someone you know if struggling with hunger, homelessness or mental illness, and you’re not sure where to turn, our library staff will be happy to help. Although we cannot make specific recommendations or offer any sort of legal advice, we'll do what we can to provide relevant resources and information to anyone who needs it, any time it’s needed.
 



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