MILWAUKEE — Betty has been living on the streets of Milwaukee with her boyfriend for two years.

What You Need To Know

  • The county is working to find those living at the park and rides housing

  • Most people struggling with homelessness also struggle with substance abuse and mental health
  • Officials said some would rather live on the streets than live in housing 

  • Outreach Community Health Centers works directly with those living on the streets to find them longterm care and help

“We had a house fire a year and a half, maybe two years ago and we lost everything,” said Betty, a pseudonym being used in place of her real name to protect her identity. 

For the last few months, Betty has been living in a tent at the Holt Avenue Park and Ride along with 15 other people. 

“We came here because recently, we met with Street Angels and they told us we needed to stay in one place to get help with housing,” said Betty. 

(Spectrum News 1/Cody Taylor)

Jovonte Kendrick is a street outreach worker for Outreach Community Health Centers.

“We actually have to see that they are sleeping outside in order for them to take advantage of the resources that we offer,” said Kendrick.

The Milwaukee Police Department recently cracked down on those living at the park and rides by issuing citations for violations of Milwaukee’s winter parking regulations. However, the department has since voided those citations and they won’t be enforced.

If Betty had to leave the park and ride, she said she had no idea where she would go. 

(Spectrum News 1/Cody Taylor)

“The other day we were the only ones that had not started to leave because we don’t have a vehicle and we were going to either call for a ride or find some woods nearby, otherwise I don’t know,” said Betty. 

With the temperatures dropping, many outreach groups throughout the county are working to get them housed. 

That process takes time. It is time that Betty said she and many others don’t have. 

“Without the heater, we wouldn’t make it. It’s propane and, to be honest, I am on my last thing and we space it out,” said Betty. 

(Spectrum News 1/Cody Taylor)

The homelessness crisis is not unique to Milwaukee’s park and rides. On any given day, hundreds of people find themselves living out on the streets. 

Kendrick said the first step in getting people help is by building trust. 

“It is important to build trust because they won’t talk to you if they don’t trust you,” said Kendrick. “They won’t tell you what is going on with them if they don’t trust you, so without trust, we wouldn’t know how to help them.” 

Most of the people Kendrick interacts with not only struggle with homelessness. He said they also struggle with substance abuse and mental health. 

“I do see a lot of the same faces often on the streets,” said Kendrick. “Most of them we have helped get into a shelter at one time, but they end up back on the streets because the shelter did not work out for them.”

(Spectrum News 1/Cody Taylor)

Stacey Polley is the street outreach case manager for Outreach Community Health Centers. She said you can’t force someone to live in a home or go down the path of sobriety. 

“A lot of people chose to live outside because that’s where they feel safe and that’s where they don’t have to abide by any rules,” said Polley. “A lot of them suffer from trauma at home and find it safer to be outside.”  

Betty said she lives outside because she lost her home and all her belongings in a fire. 

(Spectrum News 1/Cody Taylor)

Until recently, she said she had a full-time job, but the struggles that come along with being homeless took that from her. 

“I just lost [my job] because I had no way to charge my phone and I was late so much and I was going to work with bad hygiene… I could only do it for so long,” said Betty. 

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that Milwaukee County was cracking down on those living at the park and rides by issuing citations for violations. The story has been updated to reflect that the Milwaukee Police Department is cracking down on violators. (Dec. 18, 2023)