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Challenges caused by homelessness discussed in Wausau

Isak Dinesen
WAOW Television

City leaders in Wausau sought to address how the city can best serve its homeless population Tuesday.

Prior to a meeting at City Hall, members of the Committee of the Whole and law enforcement were shown around a homeless encampment area west of the downtown area.

Police say people have brought up concerns about who lives near there and what they're doing.

"We regularly get contacted by businesses that feel like they're suffering a negative daily impact, based on loitering and bad behavior and some panhandling," said Matt Barnes, Wausau's deputy police chief.

The city has already undergone several efforts in the last few years looking to address how it can serve its homeless, like starting a position within the police department of Community Outreach Specialist, which is led by Tracy Reiger.

However, the needs for the city's homeless are running resources thin.

"What we find more and more is that we are the first access point for help out of that situation, and our only way, our only conduit for delivery is to deliver that patient to a local emergency room, and I will tell you that the emergency rooms are overwhelmed," said Robert Barteck, the chief of the Wausau Fire Department.

In order to address these concerns, some leaders are preaching a more collaborative effort.

"It's not that we need five Tracy [Reigers], but we need some people to take the baton from Tracy and continue the race. That isn't necessarily new city employees, but it's partners," said Lisa Rasmussen, a committee member and alderperson for District 7 in the city.

Tuesday's conversation comes amid a city budget item that allowed for fencing to be put up near the encampment the committee toured, which would reroute people that live near there.

The meeting was still ongoing at press time. To view it in its entirety, click here.

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