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The hidden face of homelessness in central Wisconsin

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By Kris Leonhardt

CENTRAL WISCONSIN – Many experiencing homelessness do not show up in official figures. Often they find temporary accommodations or sometimes they simply just do not want to be found.

“Word gets around that we are going to go out and look for them in the night time, they’ll go and hide – many of them will hide; because, they do not want to be, No. 1, disturbed, and many times, they do not want to be found. They just want to be left alone in their privacy. It’s hard to find them,” said Stevens Point Salvation Army Director Ed Wilson, who has been working with the agency since 1984.

Most often those experiencing homelessness move about unnoticed during the day.

Tiffani Krueger was among a group of central Wisconsin residents that began pilgrimages to metro areas in 2013 to seek out those experiencing homelessness to help provide for them and “make them smile.”

“We went everywhere we could to see where people were in the community that were sleeping outdoors, just to go love on them, and bring supplies, bring gear, but it was more just a ‘be there for people concept’… It was a way to connect with people who were less fortunate,” recalled Tiffani Krueger, Evergreen Community Initiatives board chair.

“Once the community in Stevens Point found out that we were doing this, I started getting phone calls from people that were sleeping outside here in our own community.

“Within that first year, I ended up working with 97 people who were sleeping outdoors here in Stevens Point. I had no idea we had a homeless population.”

By the numbers

The United States Interagency Council on Homelessness said, “As of January 2019, Wisconsin had an estimated 4,538 experiencing homelessness on any given day, as reported by Continuums of Care to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Of that total, 592 were family households, 359 were Veterans, 200 were unaccompanied young adults (aged 18-24), and 533 were individuals experiencing chronic homelessness.

“Public school data reported to the U.S. Department of Education during the 2017-18 school year shows that an estimated 18,853 public school students experienced homelessness over the course of the year. Of that total, 316 students were unsheltered, 2,257 were in shelters, 1,176 were in hotels/motels, and 15,104 were doubled up.”

Those numbers are based off of Point in Time count data, as well as information received from public schools.

Narrowing those numbers down a little more, a 2019 Homeless Management Information System report – reflecting 2018 counts – shows 230 emergency shelter clients in central Wisconsin, with 58 percent of them single adults, 40 percent families, and two percent of them children.

Homelessness

While many local agencies said the numbers of homeless individuals have remained pretty steady, the potential for an increase in the upcoming months is very likely. MMC stock photo

 A changing environment

While many local agencies said the numbers of homeless individuals have remained pretty steady, the potential for an increase in the upcoming months is very likely.

“I do not believe these numbers are increasing state wide in general. I believe that people feel there is an increase in homelessness due to transient homeless households traveling to seek services, and because shelters are closed or at reduced capacity due to COVID-19, and COVID-related loss of employment, school closures, and parents needing to help teach their children at home and staying home to care for children,” said North Central Community Action Program (NCCAP) Executive Director Diane Sennholz.

“Numbers in the next six months will likely increase. Due to many not returning to work because of COVID-19, businesses closing, and the lack of affordable housing. Also with the current moratorium in place some households will choose to not pay their rent and will be evicted in January. Also many landlords will not be able to sustain their rental properties without income, and will sell the properties. Landlords need rent as they have mortgages and other payments too.”

“Numbers, I think, are pretty steady,” added Wilson. “But, what I am seeing is the age bracket (is changing.) It used to be the older gentlemen being the one that we would see that was typical that we would think of homeless. Now, we are seeing more younger, and we are seeing more families.”

Wilson added that he has also seen more government involvement in recent years.

“We’ve gone to that new philosophy of housing first, which the goal of the federal government is for us to get everybody housed and end homelessness. The way we do that is provide housing and then work from there. Get them off of the street, get them into an apartment or into a program, and then work on whatever things they need work on whether it is an addiction, or whether it is employment, mental health – to work on that after you get them housed,” he added.

But Sennholz said that agencies can run into challenges in serving those needs for potential clients, via previous evictions, bad credit scores, and previous criminal charges.

Available resources

NCCAP administers to those experiencing homelessness or at risk of becoming homeless in Wood, Lincoln, and Marathon counties.

“NCCAP provides eviction and eviction prevention services through local funding agencies such as United Way and Salvation Army. NCCAP is also a No Wrong Door agency and all staff are trained in the Coordinated Entry system. Households who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless are eligible for Coordinated Entry. Once in the system we can pull from the Coordinated Entry List for our Supportive Housing Program, Rapid Re-Housing Program, Prevention Programs, and Tenant Based Rental Assistance Program,” Sennholz said.

In Portage County, the Salvation Army offers assistance in the form of emergency shelter, three meals a day, bus tickets to get to job interviews and doctor appointments, case management, laundry and showers, food pantry, rental assistance through four programs, clothing vouchers, and hygiene products. Evergreen Community Initiatives currently offers a kids closet, warming center, and personal hygiene pantry. The agency typically offers meals to those in need, but it is currently suspended due to COVID-19.

Central Wisconsin agencies serving those experiencing homelessness include: Stevens Point: Evergreen Community Initiatives, 715-252-7860; Salvation Army, 715-341-2437; Family Crisis Center, 715-343-7125. Marshfield: Marshfield Area United Way, 2-1-1. Wisconsin Rapids: Love, Inc., 715-424-5683; United Way of South Wood & Adams Counties, 2-1-1; Wausau: Salvation Army, 715-845-4272. All of Central Wisconsin: North Central Community Action Program, 715-424-2581.

How you can help

Sennholz said that giving to local agencies helps NCCAP and other programs provide for more clients.

“Donate to local agencies that partner with us to provide funding for assisting those households at risk. Local dollar funding through the United Way and Salvation Army serves over 2,500 families in Wood, Lincoln, and Marathon County. Without this funding we would see a huge increase in our Coordinated Entry system and make the waiting list impossible to work through. Several households would likely become homeless. This need will still be here when COVID related issues slow down,” Sennholz said.

Wilson adds that local food pantries need assistance more than ever, with some pantries currently empty of stock.

“I know for all of our food pantries, because all of us are sought out by the homeless and those that are in need, with the loss of two major food drives – which is the Boy Scouts and the postal drive – that’s hurt all of our pantries. I know one pantry; they just have nothing on their shelves,” Wilson explained.

In addition, Wilson stated that the Salvation Army is always in need of blankets, pillows, and linen.

“We go through that all of the time. Usually when somebody leaves, we will just let them take them with them. Not the pillows, but we will let them take the linen with them, a blanket; so, if they don’t find a permanent place that they at least have something to be able to cover themselves with. So, we provide that and that is always a big need for us,” he added.

For Evergreen, the need is people. With many of their volunteers being elderly, the current environment has taken a major source of helping hands from the organization.

“We lost a lot of volunteers, which is expected, because we had a lot of elderly people that were volunteering. They were really amazing and for years, we had a really good crew, but I anticipated that we would lose quite a few,” Krueger explained.

“We need volunteers. We are looking for a younger clientele, a younger group of volunteers to come in and help out.”



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AROUND OREGON: A financial lifeline during Covid

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The economic downturn caused by the pandemic has hit Indian Country particularly hard. Entrepreneurs are turning to small, local lending institutions in a region that’s often outside the reach of traditional banks.

Clients of Roxanne Best take part in one of her paddleboard yoga classes on the Okanogan River. (Courtesy/ Underscore)

Roxanne Best was preparing to relaunch her photography business when Covid made its way to the U.S. A serial entrepreneur and member of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, Best teaches paddleboard yoga classes and artist-in-business workshops. She also taught “Indianpreneur” classes, the term used by an Oregon nonprofit for its business workshops. To put the photo enterprise back on its feet, she purchased marketing materials and scheduled events to showcase her product to clients.

“Then the pandemic hit and all the gigs I was scheduled for were canceled,” Best said in a telephone interview from her home 40 miles south of the Canadian border. “The income I was expecting was gone.”

Best went from helping other entrepreneurs get started to needing assistance herself. So she turned to the Northwest Native Development Fund, a community development financial institution based in Coulee Dam in north-central Washington state. Known as a CDFI, the fund is a private financial institution that delivers affordable lending to help low-income, low-wealth, and other disadvantaged people and communities. CDFIs mostly focus on specific communities or regions and provide funding and other services to encourage economic development and economic security.

The funds are nothing new — the Northwest Native Development Fund has been around for more than a decade. But the funds have been a lifeline to entrepreneurs who don’t have access to connections with traditional lines of credit during the economic downturn caused by the pandemic. Indian Country, and businesses in the arts, entertainment, and recreation, have taken a hard hit during the pandemic, according to a report by the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis’ Center for Indian Country Development.

Many reservation residents in the Pacific Northwest “don’t have an ATM on their land, let alone a full-service bank,” said Amber Shulz-Oliver, a Yakama-Wasco descendant who is the executive director at the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians – Economic Development Corporation. “Many don’t have collateral like a house or a rich uncle to borrow $10,000. CDFIs can be an institution that is trusted to get that kind of capital to build businesses.”

The battle to end predatory lending

Ted Piccolo, executive director and creator of the Northwest Native Development Fund based on the Colville Indian Reservation, is considered the region’s CDFI guru.

NNDF, which Piccolo founded 13 years ago, has lending capital of about $5 million. He would like to double that war chest by the end of the year.

“If we had to, if people came to the door, we could deploy close to $8 million tomorrow with the money on hand,” he said, noting that total would include loans already out.

The fund opened its doors in 2009 with classes, workshops, and small business planning.

“I was looking for ways to get some of our Native-owned businesses financing who couldn’t get traditional financing,” said Piccolo, a member of the Colville Tribe. “They were stuck in the water, on the sidelines.”

NNDF became a quasi-business consultant, educating business owners about the financing process and the need for good credit. Toward that credit goal, NNDF initiated an “anti-payday loan” program.

“One of the reasons for bad credit was people getting into all this high-risk stuff, super expensive predatory sinkholes that they couldn’t get out of,” Piccolo said.

People were trapped in a system that operated to keep borrowers in debt. Piccolo said predatory lending practices that include the principle, interest, and fees, can reach 200 or 300 percent, and create an exponential and unending debt.

Instead, NNDF offers a loan product that allows an individual to pay off a hypothetical $1,500 loan over 12 months with an interest rate of 15%, building new credit as he or she pays off the loan.

Borrowers are incentivized to pay off their advances with the promise of better interest — as low as 10 percent — on ensuing loans.

As envisioned, borrowers will pay off their NNDF loans and build enough beginning credit to obtain further credit through more traditional banks or credit unions. On top of providing loans, the fund offers counseling to help clients build business and marketing plans. Staffers hold family budget workshops, and in 2019 the fund financed the construction of a house to address a shortage of homes in the region.

Economic development means a robust private sector

CDFIs serving Native American communities give an economic boost for the entire region, Shulz-Oliver said.

“One of the big tools of economic development is a robust private sector, but small businesses need capital,” she said.

Piccolo said the biggest challenge for CDFIs in Indian Country is “human capacity” to operate the financial institutions.

“Out here on the reservation there just are not a lot of loan officers, accountants or controllers,” Piccolo said. “We need to train them and pay them, and still operate at the same time. We’re all learning on the fly, learning how to train while raising money to train and lend.”

And while CDFIs aren’t new — there are at least 1,000 of them, 70 of which serve Native communities, across the country — they’re growing. A 15-member Northwest Native Lending Network of developing or operating CDFIs was organized in 2019 at the Economic Summit for the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians – Economic Development Corporation. The Northwest’s newest CDFI is the Nixyaawii Community Financial Services serving the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation in northeastern Oregon.

In the Northwest region, many Native CDFIs’ business portfolios consist primarily of natural resource-based ventures, with loans for logging equipment and fishing boats. However, CDFIs work with all kinds of clients, including a software company trying to get off the ground with help from ATNI’s Economic Development Corporation. The goal of these institutions is to help clients reach financial stability so they no longer need the CDFIs’ services.

“We’re trying to put ourselves out of business, to make individuals credit worthy enough” to access more traditional funding sources, Shulz-Oliver said.

Loan provided needed boost

Best provides training and teaches her yoga classes, but her bread-and-butter is portrait photography, especially photos for high school seniors.

More than a year after the pandemic hit the U.S., Best is still in business, eying senior portraits and the paddleboard yoga season. Best said the NNDF loan provided cash flow that carried her through the initial shock of the economic slump.

“That $5,000 is all it took to get out of the stressed-out mindset,” she said. “Now the bills are paid. You’ve got a good month or two to figure out how to make things work. That one little loan transformed the direction I was able to grow with my businesses.”

This story published with permission as part of the AP Storyshare system. Salem Reporter is a contributor to this network of Oregon news outlets.

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Why Are Certified Pre-Owned Cars More Expensive?

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The used car vs. certified pre-owned (CPO) argument can typically be summed up with the phrase “you get what you pay for.” Both are technically used vehicles, but CPO cars have a few advantages that may be worth their price tag.

Why CPOs Cost More Than Regular Used Cars

A CPO vehicle is commonly called the cream of the crop of used cars, and its price tag often reflects this. CPO vehicles tend to be more expensive than standard used ones.

But, why?

One of the biggest reasons why CPO cars are more expensive than their used counterparts is that CPOs are inspected by a manufacturer-certified mechanic. This means that every CPO vehicle must meet certain standards before it’s labeled as such. A true CPO is sold at a franchised dealership. Mom-and-pop dealers don’t have these vehicle options (and “dealer-certified” is not the same thing as a manufacturer-certified car).

Another reason for the higher price tag is that many CPO vehicles have just come off-lease. When a lessee returns a lease, the manufacturer’s likely to inspect to see if it qualifies for their CPO program. Since most auto lease terms are around two to three years, many off-lease cars make the cut when they’re returned clean and meet the low-mileage requirements. CPO cars are also refurbished, unlike regular used vehicles.

Each auto manufacturer has its own set of standards for their CPO cars, but the guidelines are usually in this ballpark:

  • Vehicles typically must have less than 80,000 miles
  • Some luxury brands require less than 50,000 miles
  • Typically must be less than ten years old, sometimes newer
  • Only one previous owner

Regular used cars don’t go through these rigorous manufacturer inspections before they’re sold. A used vehicle may be inspected in-house at the dealership before it’s sold, but likely not through the manufacturer like a CPO.

CPOs Are Covered

All CPO vehicles come with some sort of warranty, which adds to the overall cost, but offers peace of mind. Being on the newer side, many CPO cars may still be covered under their original manufacturer’s warranty and often include an extended warranty once that expires.

Some perks manufacturers may include in their CPO warranties include:

  • Why Are Certified Pre-Owned Vehicles More Expensive?12-months of 24-hour roadside assistance
  • A 12-month warranty after the manufacturer’s warranty expires
  • A vehicle history report
  • Powertrain coverage
  • Car rental coverage
  • Trip interruption benefits

Of course, manufacturers vary in what their warranties include when you purchase a CPO vehicle. Be sure to read through the exclusions of the warranty so you know what the terms are, how long you’re covered, and if there are any limitations.

Can Bad Credit Borrowers Finance a CPO?

Generally, bad credit borrowers are told to finance a used vehicle over a brand new one because used cars come with a lower sticker price, usually. However, while CPO vehicles tend to be a little more expensive than regular used vehicles, a CPO’s selling price is still likely less than a new car due to initial depreciation. Depreciation is loss of value over time due to mileage, age, and normal wear and tear.

Brand new vehicles lose a lot of value in the first two or three years of ownership, possibly up to 20% in that time, and it’s usually the steepest drop in value over the life of the vehicle. However, after those first couple of years, depreciation tends to slow down. If you opt for a CPO car, it’s usually much less expensive than its brand new equivalent, and very likely has already seen its steepest drop in value.

A CPO car is likely a more attainable option for bad credit borrowers than a brand new one. And if a borrower with credit challenges works with a special finance dealership that’s signed up with subprime lenders, CPO vehicles can be an option if they meet lender requirements.

Ready to Stop Looking and Start Shopping?

Sometimes the toughest part of car shopping is figuring out which dealership you can work with. There are so many dealers out there, and it can be tough for bad credit borrowers to tell which ones are signed up with subprime lenders that can assist with credit challenges.

At Auto Credit Express, we’ve crafted a nationwide network of special finance dealerships that are able and willing to help bad credit borrowers get the vehicle they need. Skip the search for a dealer with bad credit resources and let us do the legwork for you.

Starting is simple: complete our free auto loan request form and we’ll look for a dealership in your local area with no obligation.

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My husband signed for a car for a friend — against my wishes. Now we get notices for unpaid tolls and parking tickets. What if there’s an accident?

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My husband signed a car lease for a friend. He told me he was co-signing because his friend had bad credit even though I objected to that and asked why his friend can’t just buy a used car. Then at the last second, my husband told me that his friend’s credit “was so bad he had to take out the whole loan” in my husband’s name only.

Aside from the fact this story doesn’t add up, he is now getting second notices for unpaid tolls and parking tickets, and just sends them to his friend and trusts him to pay. He ensures the lease payments are made every month, and tells me that tolls will send collections notices before reporting to credit-collection agencies.

He also claims that his friend has insurance, but that doesn’t add up. The state we are in requires the owner to have insurance. He tells me that none of this is my business, and I have no right to be upset. Yet every time another “past due” envelope arrives I panic at the thought of the savings I worked so hard to put away might be gone in one accident, and that the home I wanted to buy with our excellent credit won’t be possible anymore.

Can you help me explain to him why this was a very bad idea, and why it’s not “none of my business,” as he says? What options do I have to get us out of this mess before we lose everything?

Panicking Wife

You can email The Moneyist with any financial and ethical questions related to coronavirus at [email protected]

Dear Panicking,

Yes, your husband is responsible for the vehicle insurance, especially if someone else is driving this car on a regular basis. If the documents say the borrower should be the primary driver, your husband’s arrangement with this friend is a “straw deal” and is likely also illegal.

But your problems go way beyond this car. Your husband’s willingness to take out a lease on behalf of a friend, and endure these collection notices, raises many red flags. What does your husband owe this person? Why would he go above and beyond any reasonable expectation of a friendship to risk his finances and credit rating in this way? The fact that he did this against your express wishes and good sense adds insult to injury. Something is wrong with the bigger picture.

As for your husband’s legal liability. According to Maggiano, DiGirolamo & Lizzi, a law firm based in Fort Lee, N.J., “As strange as it may sound, you can be held liable for a car accident that involves your vehicle — even if you weren’t present at the time. In most motor vehicle accidents, the negligent driver is the one held liable for any injuries or harm caused. However, in certain situations, the law can attribute fault to the owner of the car instead.”

The firm cites the legal principles of negligent entrustment and negligent maintenance. The first involves “entrusting your vehicle to someone who was unfit to drive.” Negligent maintenance “is the failure to properly maintain your vehicle, presenting a safety risk for anyone driving the car. This term ‘negligent maintenance’ is used because you have a duty to other drivers to keep your car in safe, working condition as to minimize the risk of an accident.”

Given that your husband owns the car and it is being driven by someone who is not paying its bills, and creating more costs through careless driving and bad parking, your husband is already fully aware that this is a bad situation. You are left without a “why” or action by your husband to address this. Take a closer look — with the help of an attorney — at your joint/separate finances, and explore ways to protect your savings. You also need to take action to restore your peace of mind.

Otherwise, you will be driving around in proverbial circles without knowing your legal and financial options. Whatever that potential action entails should be decided between you and your attorney in the first instance. I am willing to guess that this is not the first time your husband has made a decision in your marriage that has left you baffled. A lawyer should explain to you why it’s a bad idea to endure these kinds of unilateral decisions, and what you can do about them.

The Moneyist: ‘I cut his hair because he won’t pay for a haircut’: My multimillionaire husband is 90. I’ve looked after him for 41 years, but he won’t help my son

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