The Brown County Homeless and Housing Coalition began in the early 1980s as an effort to identify the needs of those displaced by the movement to transform run-down, aging neighborhoods in downtown Green Bay into more prosperous areas. During this “gentrification” period, single-room occupancy buildings (The Platten Building, Northern Building, and YMCA) closed their low rental apartments for residents. Social service providers for low income residents were concerned about the fate facing those who were displaced, fearing that many would become homeless. That did happen, and the community was not prepared to address this growing need. It was in this environment that the Brown County Task Force for the Homeless was formed with the leadership a St. Norbert College Professor, Karina O’Malley, and its first president, Lee Meyers who represented the Brown County Hunger Task Force. The United Amerindian Center, The Salvation Army, St. Vincent de Paul, and Marion House joined in efforts to address the needs for shelter at that time. Karina O’Malley and her husband, Lou O’Malley, opened their residence to house homeless families, “Crossroads.”
The early days of the Task Force focused on educating local City and County government officials about the impact of gentrification and the needs of those displaced. @ Public forums, presentations and coverage in the local media were common, and for the first time, local statistics were gathered on those seeking shelter. A Subcommittee to the Human Services Committee of the Brown County Board was formed under Task Force leadership with the goal of educating the Board about the emerging homeless population. The Subcommittee addressed issues such as, public assistance to local shelters, the need for community mental health outreach workers, transportation, and police concerns.
Over the years the Task Force helped agencies interested in developing shelter services. It partnered with the Brown County Clergy Association to develop the NEW Community Shelter for adults and provided encouragement for the development of The Ecumenical Partnership for Housing and Freedom House programs that served the increasing number of families with children needing shelter. The NEW Community Clinic developed a federally funded “Healthcare for the Homeless Program.” Crossroads closed prior to the tragic passing of Lou O‘Malley; Karina continued her involvement by contributing seed monies that enabled the development of the St. John‘s Homeless Shelter for persons who do not meet the admissions criteria of other shelters in the community and by leading a discussion group of homeless consumers. Eventually, The Brown County Task Force for the Homeless changed its name to the Brown County Homeless and Housing Coalition.
The Brown County Homeless and Housing Coalition has grown both in membership and scope, but its desire to address the needs of persons experiencing poverty and homelessness in the community has never waivered. Today the Coalition is made up of almost 40 participating agencies. The Coalition maintains its focus on working with those experiencing homelessness or on the verge of homelessness as well as working to address issues at the root of homelessness.
The Coalition participates in several events throughout the year to keep the issues of homelessness in the community’s awareness.