Homelessness in Eau Claire does not reflect national trends

Sojourner House can further its community aid through support

More stories from Elizabeth Gosling


Photo by Elizabeth Gosling

The Sojourner House is a homeless shelter in Eau Claire, located on Barstow Street. The shelter has seen full capacity since March, not reflecting the recent Housing and Urban Development finding of less homelessness in Wisconsin.

Coming into the holiday season, I just can’t help thinking of putting ornaments on the tree, making my favorite recipes and watching the classic movies. Yet, at the same time, there are people living on the streets, struggling to maintain hope.

The homeless population has lived through trying times. From living in cars to friend’s couches, they may have experienced nightmarish conditions and may struggle to have hope for a change.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) reported the rate of homelessness in Wisconsin declined this year by more than double the national rate. While Wisconsin Public Radio found the rate was down about six percent across the state compared to 2015. This statistic is positive, but does not show the full picture.

The HUD collected data from across the country in late January 2016. They counted people going to homeless shelters or other areas, such as cars or parks.

Looking at the Eau Claire area, the Sojourner House does not see proof of this decline. Kim Mueller, staff member at the Sojourner House and UW-Eau Claire social work student said the shelter has seen an increase in attendance in previous years. They have also been filled to capacity since March.

Eau Claire’s Police Department have referred people to the House, as well as enforced the law with people living on the streets.

Mueller said it seems like the rate has been stagnant based on her own experiences working with the homeless population for more than a year.  

Shaylee Pasch has lived this somewhat lack of change. First, she lived in a car. Then she came to the Sojourner House for shelter and found helpful results. With the Sojourner House’s aid, she was able to live in an apartment. Now she is back at the shelter with her fiance.

The Sojourner House has been Pasch’s home since May. She said the homeless population goes in waves, some days there are more people, other days less.

The homeless population is a problem not just in the Chippewa Valley, but everywhere. An article released by WisContext found that the majority of the homeless population comes from outside the Madison and Milwaukee areas, and there are blind spots when it comes to counting the population.

For example, the rural Ashland and Bayfield counties have higher numbers of homeless people compared to Superior, according to Millie Rounsville, CEO of Northwest Wisconsin Community Services Agency. Superior’s shelter is routinely full, unable to help those in the rural areas.

Meeting people like Pasch and Mueller, I was reminded how grateful we should be. During the holiday season, most of us have an education, as well as friends and family who care about us. Pasch does not have any family. Places such as The Sojourner House offer a home and shelter out of the cold, but Pasch has to wait long after the sun goes down before she can enter.

Volunteering and working with these populations makes a difference in the community.

So, instead of complaining because of the cold weather and your wet socks, I challenge you to think of others this holiday season. Volunteer, donate or spread cheer by caroling. Small acts of kindness can inspire and give hope to those who have lost some.

The Sojourner House welcomes volunteers. Mueller said that the community’s outreach to the homeless community is generous, with many groups coming to volunteer and donate of their time and treasure. She said the organization would not be able to be as effective without the support of the community.

The Sojourner House is located at 618 S. Barstow Street in Eau Claire.