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Housing Struggles: People Who Lose Homes in Fires Struggle to Find Affordable Housing


Several apartment fires in northern Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula have displaced dozens of people this year.

Getting those people back into permanent housing has been a challenge in the current housing market.

After police and fire fighters, American Red Cross volunteers are usually one of the first to respond to a house or apartment fire.

When a person or family isn’t able to get back into their home, the Red Cross makes sure they’re taken care of.

“We’re really making sure those people have those basics taken care of. Roof over their heads somewhere safe, things like meals, steady meals, and then any kind of prescriptions or mental health needs they may have, function and access needs kind of taken care of,” said Justin Kern, Communications Director for the American Red Cross of Wisconsin.

Kern said in the days after the fire or any other kind of disaster, the Red Cross is able find a place for the people that have lost their home, whether that’s a hotel, friend or family’s house, or by setting up a temporary shelter at a church or community center.

It’s the longer-term housing situation that’s become an issue during the last year and a half.

The American Red Cross will work with the people and community organizations to come up with a recovery plan to get people either back in their house or apartment or into a different one.

But that has been a challenge in this housing market.

“The affordable housing side of it really does feel like I can’t remember in the last few years. It’s just been a real crunch and an extra struggle,” said Kern. “We have great partners at the county level and at the local level with non-profits to help connect the dots there, but it is something where it’s just been tougher, especially thinking about smaller villages or cities or towns that may not have as strong of a stock of affordable housing.”

It means that people that have lost their homes are having to stay with friends and family longer until they can find something, or they have to move farther away.

While the housing market is out of the Red Cross’s control, Kern said one of the best things people can do make sure they’re prepared for the worst is to have homeowners and renter insurance.

“It really is extremely valuable. People are able to get back up on their feet a lot more quickly if they have renter’s insurance,” Kern said. “That’s just a huge thing that I would invite people to explore.  I know it is a little bit of a cost, but at the end of the day if you face the worst, it really does help you get back up on your feet that much quicker.”

Kern said the American Red Cross is always looking for volunteers to help in situations like this.

You can find information on how to get involved on the American Red Cross website

Katie Thoresen is WXPR's News Director/Vice President.
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