Homelessness in Racine: What can be done? Residents pack meeting to brainstorm ideas

RACINE (WITI) -- More than 200 people in the city of Racine are chronically homeless. On Tuesday evening, March 24th, hundreds turned out for a meeting about the state of homelessness in Racine -- and what can be done about it.

"I really haven`t had much stability anywhere," Jonathan Turner said.

Turner has been homeless for two weeks. Right now, he's staying at the Hospitality Center at St. Luke's Episcopal Church on Main Street in Racine.

"If I had a stable home, that`s honestly my number one dream right now," Turner said.

Anyone can find overnight shelter at the Hospitality Center -- regardless of their criminal record or any substance abuse problems they may have.

"We said yes to 64 persons last winter -- to 110 this winter season," Hospitality Center Director Kevin Stewart said.

Stewart says the facility is stretched beyond its limits, and the city needs a long-term solution for the people his shelter serves.

"We don`t have showers. We don`t have storage facilities. We don`t have separate spaces. We have one big room," Stewart said.

The Hospitality Center's future was one of the issues discussed at Tuesday evening's community meeting about the state of homelessness in Racine.

"How are we going to resolve this problem going forward long-term?" Racine Mayor John Dickert said.

Mayor Dickert says they're discussing opening a new facility or making room in existing shelters.

"We found that the key gap is in mental illness and mental health, so we are looking at ways to solve that problem," Mayor Dickert said.

There are 152 shelter beds in Racine -- not including the Hospitality Center.

Last year, more than 1,000 people were assisted by homeless agencies in the city, including Victoria Thomas.

"I`ve been in permanent housing for six months now," Thomas said.

Thomas is an example of what many consider the ultimate goal. She went from homeless to having a home of her own.

"Once you get in there and you find out how it is to have your own, you`re gonna want to keep it," Thomas said.

There was such a high turnout for this event, they had to bring in extra seats and some people had to stand. No formal decisions were made, but a lot of people consider this a step in the right direction.