The organization behind the creation of the “Key to Change” campaign, Milwaukee Downtown BID #21, is appealing to the local community for support.

Amid the COVID-19 crisis, there is a lack of resources and basic necessities for the city’s most vulnerable populations. This includes homeless individuals, as well as participants in Milwaukee County Housing Division’s Housing First initiative – a national model for addressing homelessness that provides housing as the first step toward stabilization.

“As businesses, churches, shelters, meal programs and food pantries have had to alter their operations, so have we,” said Beth Lappen, Downtown Homeless Outreach Coordinator for Milwaukee County Housing Division. “Many of our clients are at a higher risk for developing severe illness from COVID-19. We’ve been challenged to meet their needs with fewer resources, while keeping their health and safety a top priority.”

Through seven retrofitted parking meters, designed to resemble keys, and an online donation platform, the “Key to Change” campaign has provided assistance to Milwaukee County Housing Division’s Housing First program since 2017. Donations currently support the Downtown Homeless Outreach Coordinator position and provide resources for Housing First participants to cover rental application fees/security deposits and move-in kits, which include household essentials such as linens, furniture and cookware.

The “Key to Change” campaign has now made allocations to support Housing First amid the COVID-19 crisis its top priority. Funds will be utilized to purchase food or gift cards to restaurants doing take-out/curbside pick-up/drive-thru or delivery; cleaning supplies for Housing First participants; and clothing as free laundry service options and clothing banks have closed.

“In these challenging times, we have a responsibility to care for everyone in our community,” said Beth Weirick, CEO of Milwaukee Downtown, BID #21. “Many of our neighbors do not have the resources to stockpile food or sanitize their homes, much less shelter in a safe place. If you have the means to help, ‘Key to Change’ is an impactful program that provides aid to our most vulnerable populations.”

Donations to “Key to Change” can be made through coin deposits at any of the seven meter locations throughout downtown Milwaukee. Online transactions can also be made at Online donors will receive a tax-deductible receipt and be able to allocate their dollars to one of four programs – support for Housing First in response to the COVID-19 crisis, subsidization for application fees and security deposits for Housing First participants, move-in kits for Housing First participants, and funding for the Downtown Homeless Outreach Coordinator.

Since 2015, Milwaukee County Housing Division has successfully placed more than 1,500 homeless Milwaukeeans into permanent supportive housing. The local initiative maintains a 96 percent retention rate. Meanwhile, national models demonstrate an 84 percent retention rate.

Coordinated by Milwaukee Downtown, BID #21, “Key to Change” is a partnership among Milwaukee County Housing Division, City of Milwaukee, Marquette University, Milwaukee Police Department, City of Milwaukee – Office of the City Attorney and Milwaukee County District Attorney’s Office.

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Lee Matz

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