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‘A real conundrum:’ City officials work toward solution for homeless living in Milwaukee’s ‘Tent City’

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MILWAUKEE -- There is an ongoing debate over Milwaukee's homeless population, specifically, those living underneath the Marquette Interchange in an area known as "Tent City." Groups working to help those in need said they're trying to find the best way to get people into more permanent and safe living conditions.

FOX6 News was unable to obtain hard numbers to show whether this population in need is growing, but just a brief drive through the area Friday, Aug. 30 revealed "Tent City" is home to several dozen people. With winter right around the corner, leaders with some organizations wondered what's the best approach moving forward.

"It's a real conundrum for sure," said Patrick Van Derburgh, president of the Milwaukee Rescue Mission.  "I think word has gotten out that there are tents available, meals available, things that really good-hearted people are bringing."

The Milwaukee Rescue Mission was among those trying to find the right balance in helping those living in the tents.

"There's sort of a philosophical debate," said Van Derburgh. "Do you resource people who are staying in the tents? Does that enable that, or do you encourage people to come into shelters?"

In a statement, Elizabeth Weirick, the CEO of Milwaukee Downtown Business Improvement District 21 said they were also working with organizations to help solve this issue:

"The intent is to get every one of those individuals housed and in a safe place where they can work on a pathway of wellness."

She said a recent census found evidence of drug use and needles. She said walk-throughs revealed extremely unsanitary, unsafe, and unstable living conditions.

"These are not sustainable conditions for any human beings to live in," she said.

While there's no obvious solution to the problem, homeless advocates said the clock is ticking to find the answer.

"This time of the year, obviously, it's not as much of a crisis as it is in a few months, when the weather gets cold," said Van Derburgh.

The Milwaukee Rescue Mission works with other organizations to help pass out hygiene products to those in need. They have room for people in need at their shelter, which is located near 17th and Kilbourn.

Due to the Labor Day holiday, Milwaukee County officials could not be reached on this issue Friday.

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