Homeless in Waupaca County
Hidden problem in rural areas
By Robert Cloud
Unlike in larger urban areas, the residents of Waupaca County who are homeless are seldom seen panhandling on the streets or living in alleys.
“It’s kind of hidden here,” according to Jed Wohlt, Waupaca County’s public health officer. “What we do see are people who do not have stable housing. They may be couch surfing, living in a car or living in a tent in the summer.”
Wohlt noted the county’s home visitation program serves several families who move from house to house.
He said of the 52 families enrolled in Healthy Beginnings, two of them do not have a stable home.
When registering for state and federal benefits in Waupaca County, 104 people identified themselves as homeless in 2018.
From January through August 2019, 95 people identified themselves as homeless.
Nineteen of those who were identified as homeless this year in Waupaca County were 18 or younger.
There have been 58 homeless adult men reported and 35 homeless adult women.
“Most of them have some sort of employment,” Wohlt said. “They just can’t afford a place for themselves.”
Every two years, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation produces a County Health Rankings study.
The study found that 2,129 Waupaca County households paid more than 50% of their income on rent.
Affordable Housing Online collects state and federal housing, census and tax data nationwide.
The site reported Waupaca County has 438 affordable apartments for low-income tenants.
Of those, 188 offer rental assistance through some type of subsidy that pays for a portion of a renter’s monthly rent and utilities.
Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers, public housing, USDA rental assistance, Housing and Urban Development properties for elderly and disabled residents are among the types of subsidized rental units available.
In Waupaca County, the median household income is $4,333 per month and the median rent is $668 per month.
A household that earns less than $2,227 per month and pays at or above the median rent would be considered rent overburdened because 30 percent of its income is going to rent.
HUD considers more than 32% of Waupaca County households to be rent overburdened.
“I don’t think there is a lot of low-income housing in the county,” Wohlt said.
In Waupaca County, 11% of residents live at or below the federal poverty level, while 16% of children live in poverty, according to the County Health Rankings study.
Nearly 5,270 people in Waupaca County live in poverty.
The poverty level is $16,910 for a household of two people.
Another measurement of poverty can be found in the number of children receiving free or reduced price lunches.
To receive free lunches, students’ families must be between 100% to 130% of the federal poverty level.
For reduced-price lunches, students’ families must be between 130% to 185% of the poverty level.
In Waupaca County, 38% of students are eligible for free or reduced price lunch.
United Way’s ALICE (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed) studies households that earn more than the poverty level, but less than the basic cost of living for each county.
Families with incomes below the ALICE Threshold struggle to afford basic needs.
ALICE takes into account how each county has different costs of living and different income requirements.
Transportation costs are higher in rural areas where there are no public options.
Housing costs in many rural communities are often significantly lower than urban areas.
In Waupaca County, a single adult must earn $10.05 per hour or $20,100 a year in order to meet the bare minimum needed to live and work, according to the most recent ALICE Threshold report from 2016.
ALICE found a survival budget for a family of two adults, one infant and one preschooler was $28.33 per hour or $56,664 per year.
In 2016, 36% of Waupaca County households were below the ALICE Threshold.
United Way operates a 211 helpline in the Fox Valley area.
Wohlt said the No. 1 request for assistance in 2017 was for shelter.