Rural homelessness an issue in Wisconsin - WQOW TV: Eau Claire, WI NEWS18 News, Weather, and Sports

Rural homelessness an issue in Wisconsin


Somerset (WQOW) - For many, finding a place to rest your head at night isn't something that can be done. The National Alliance to End Homelessness says some 640,000 people spend their night without a home. While homelessness may be more noticeable in cities, it affects rural areas as well.

"I didn't consider myself homeless until that night when I didn't have a place to go. I was desperate, and I didn't know this place existed at Somerset. I had no clue this was even here," said Ken Lowrie, who stayed at the Grace Place Homeless Shelter in Somerset.

Ken is no longer homeless, but he remembers well how he found himself there.

"I've got an extensive criminal history, several felonies. Had a real tough time finding work," said Lowrie.

He wasn't alone. Thousands of people across the country aren't sure where they'll rest their head each night.

"In rural areas, there is a segment of the population that is homeless, but they're hidden," said Duana Bremer, who is the St. Croix County Social Services Director.

Sunday, the Grace Place Homeless Shelter celebrated 10 years of providing a service that often goes unnoticed; helping the homeless in rural areas.

"People always think of a homeless problem as a city problem, because when you're driving through rural America, you don't see signs that say "I will work for food, I will work for shelter." But we see that in the cities," Bremer said.

The shelter has provided a place to stay for more than 1,600  people since it opened.

"Last year in New Richmond, which is a very small town north of us, that school had 14 homeless families," said Bremer.

It also puts people to work.

"Nothing that they requested of me was out of the realm of what I could do. So I thought, "Maybe I'll just give this a try," Lowrie said.

Thanks to the shelter, which provides assistance in the job search, Ken was able to find work. After 90 days at the shelter, he was back on his own feet.

"89 percent of individuals that complete our program are still permanently housed after a year and a half. So folks reside at our facility, and then they actually move on to permanent housing."

Grace Place Homeless Shelter is open to individuals as well as families. In the 10 years since the shelter opened in Somerset, they have accounted for more than 50,000 overnight stays.

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