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‘It’s safer here:’ Homeless sleeping in tents in MacArthur Square; no current plans to remove them

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Elizabeth Smith

MILWAUKEE -- Tents have been popping up outside the Milwaukee County Courthouse, and many of the homeless who are sleeping there said they don't want to move.

The tents line what is known as MacArthur Square on the back side of the courthouse and the Safety Building, and over the past few weeks, the number has been growing.

"This was one of my tents. I slept the other night in a puddle of water. I used to sleep down by the Municipal Court on a blanket, and I finally got a tent," said Elizabeth Smith.

The number of tents is growing.

Shakira Gray

"When I first got here, there was about 10. Now there's about 20," said Shakira Gray.

Gray said she's been living in the park the last three weeks.

"It's more safer for me here than anywhere else in the city," said Gray.

Most of the tents have been donated from charities like Eva Welch's.

"It's the best we can give them, to give them a shelter," said Welch.

Welch's non-profit Street Angels Outreach makes stops around Milwaukee to distribute donations three nights a week. She said MacArthur Square has become their busiest stop. Welch's group said the once invisible neighbors are suddenly being recognized -- with their new sleeping arrangements. County officials are taking notice.

It's the courtyard of the courthouse," said Welch.

Milwaukee County Housing Administrator James Mathy said community partners are aware of the tents and homeless outreach teams have been on site every morning. Officials said there are no current plans to remove the tents. They are instead choosing to try to help those inside with resources.

Below is Mathy's  complete statement:

“All of our community partners have been aware of the situation for a few weeks now. We are there with partner homeless outreach teams each morning trying to offer housing and services for those that are willing to accept our help and we have successfully moved some folks into housing from that area. The challenge will continue to be finding enough permanent affordable housing options for individuals in our community. We've made incredible progress in Milwaukee County on chronic homelessness and have been able to provide housing for almost all of those individuals, but in order to continue to move the needle on overall homelessness, we need to continue to cultivate public-private partnerships to create and fund more permanent housing options.”

"This is a nice place to stay. People look out for each other," said Smith.

County officials said they've had success stories where they've been able to help people find housing -- including Smith. They said they've made incredible progress on chronic homeless issues, but admitted more resources and housing are necessary.

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