Let's Talk, Marathon County

WIPPS Releases Report from Dialogues on Homelessness

The Wisconsin Institute for Public Policy and Service (WIPPS) has released a report from a series of dialogues on the topic of homelessness. The dialogues, conducted in Marathon County in March 2024, were part of Let’s Talk, Marathon County, a WIPPS initiative aimed at fostering constructive conversations among residents on a variety of public issues.

A majority of Marathon County residents who participated in the series supported a variety of measures to improve youth mental health in the community. These include expanding the pool of mental health professionals, building emotional regulation into existing health curricula at school, and supporting the well-being of families. 

Participants were selected from a pool of 94 panelists, reflecting the political and urban/rural demographics of Marathon County.  

Let’s Talk, Marathon County was one of 32 grantees for the Healing Starts Here initiative, a nationwide effort to address and understand divisive forces in communities and promote healing.

Notable points from the report include: 

  • In multiple dialogues, there was general support for investments in housing search and navigation assistance in order to connect those looking for housing with available opportunities. However, without an inventory of housing that is affordable, developing a more centralized program to connect people to housing will not be productive.
  • Participants generally expressed support for efforts to educate the public about the difficulties and struggles that those experiencing homelessness face and to encourage residents to treat homeless individuals with dignity. Educating the public to counteract stereotypes is important.
  • Participants expressed support for mentorship programs that match individuals overcoming addiction with someone who will check on them and help them with tasks, like job searches. However, concerns were raised about the qualifications of mentors and whether this should be a paid or volunteer-based role. 
  • The dialogues were characterized by low levels of disagreement and considerable common ground. Seventy-three percent (73%) of the Let’s Talk dialogue participants reported “none” to “a little” disagreement and 94% reported “quite a bit” or “a great deal” of common ground; about one-fourth (27%) reported “some” disagreement.
  • The dialogues helped Let’s Talk panelists expand their views on the issue of how to address homelessness in their communities. About the topic of homelessness, many (56%) reported that they considered perspectives or viewpoints they hadn’t considered before “quite a bit” or “a great deal.” Ninety-one percent (91%) responded that they valued the input provided by the other participants “quite a bit” or “a great deal”; 47% felt that their input was valued “quite a bit” or “a great deal” by the other participants.
  • The dialogues were characterized by high levels of respect, including for those with differing views. A majority (82%) of participants reported that those with differing views acted “very respectfully” towards one another. 

The next dialogue topic will be immigration. Those sessions will take place in July and August.