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Housing woes; COVID deaths at food plant; assault in prison; abating lead in Milwaukee; racism as public health crisis 

Of note: This week we highlight the Green Bay Press-Gazette’s examination of the human and economic impact of northeastern Wisconsin’s lack of affordable housing. Reporter Jeff Bollier tells the story of Amber Edwards, who faced a years-long crisis beginning in 2018 after her landlord sold the duplex she shared with her 2-year-old daughter and her daughter’s father, thrusting the family into a fruitless search for an affordable place to live. Even a new job couldn’t help Edwards avoid homelessness before she emerged from poverty with help from a church program. “I got a raise,” Edwards told Bollier, “and it launched me into another spiral where my rent and FoodShare benefits dropped off immediately. My responsibility for (health care) and rent went up over $600. I lost my food benefits and most of my child care.” The story was produced for the NEW News Lab (Northeast Wisconsin News Lab), a new Microsoft-funded collaborative that provides technology support, capacity building and additional funding to boost local journalism and newsrooms. Wisconsin Watch is a member of the collaborative. 

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Amber Edwards helps her daughter, Ryott, 5, read a book before bedtime. Edwards went through a period of job loss and homelessness during a nearly three-year search for an affordable place to live. She now helps others on their paths to financial stability. Credit: Sarah Kloepping / USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin

How a lack of affordable housing crimps lives, economy in northeast Wisconsin

Green Bay Press-Gazette — June 3, 2021 

Amber Edwards spent most of the last three years trying to find a place she could afford to live. In 2018, Edwards’ landlord told her the Green Bay duplex where her family lived had been sold and that the new owners planned to live there. She found herself selling off possessions, struggling to afford medical care, losing her car and experiencing homelessness — along with feeling like she failed as a mom. For an increasing number of northeastern Wisconsin residents, housing is taking a bigger chunk of their income as rents and home prices rise and the marketplace struggles to build enough affordable units. That is creating a human as well as an economic crisis. Without more single-family homes and apartments, growth could be choked off with employers desperate to fill job openings.

More than 25% of workers at a Seneca Foods plant got COVID, documents show. But the company blamed community spread.

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel — June 3, 2021

More than a quarter of the workers at a Seneca Foods plant in Gillett tested positive for COVID-19 in a single month last year, yet a company representative told a federal inspector they believed all cases were due to community spread. Newly released federal records show the company refused to provide information about the workers until it faced a federal subpoena. Eleven migrant workers at the green bean canning plant northwest of Green Bay died of COVID last fall, making the outbreak one of the deadliest in the U.S. food processing industry, a recent Milwaukee Journal Sentinel investigation found. Company and health officials failed to take critical measures to protect the plant’s migrant workers, most of whom lived in company-owned barracks that could house up to 30 people each.

Sturtevant Transitional Facility is a minimum security prison near Racine. Credit: Wisconsin Department of Corrections

Man incarcerated in Wisconsin prison afraid for his life after testifying in cold case

Cap Times — June 3, 2021 

A man incarcerated in a Wisconsin state prison said he has been violently assaulted as recently as two weeks ago and is afraid he will be killed as he awaits the possibility of an early parole release. It is a release he claimed has been stalled as the state Parole Commission insists on fulfilling technical requirements that must be met before granting his release. Eli Nunez, 42, is incarcerated at Sturtevant Transitional Facility, a minimum security prison near Racine. Nunez told the Cap Times he fears for his life and detailed a number of assaults he has endured over the past month from gang members who consider him a snitch for assisting law enforcement in solving a three-decades-old cold case.

How Milwaukee County set the stage for tackling racism as a public health crisis

Madison365 —  June 2, 2021 

In 2017, Nicole Brookshire was appointed to lead the Milwaukee County’s Office on African American Affairs. She would join a movement to acknowledge racism and oppression through concrete policy change — making Milwaukee County one of the nation’s first jurisdictions to declare racism a public health crisis. Since then, more than 170 jurisdictions across the country have followed suit, including the Wisconsin cities of Milwaukee, Madison, Green Bay — as well as Dane County. Brown County is now joining that list.

Read more from Madison365: Brown County is just the latest local government nationwide to address the health impacts of racism

Employees of Weatherization Services LLC perform lead abatement work on a home Tuesday, June 1, 2021 in the 1500 block of W. Dakota St. in Milwaukee, Wis. They are one of the few contractors doing lead abatement in the city. Credit: Mark Hoffman / Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

There’s plenty of work for lead abatement in Milwaukee, but getting contractors is difficult

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel — June 3, 2021 

Milwaukee-based Weatherization Services has grown by roughly 30% each of the last two years and is likely to grow another 30% this year, all because of its lead abatement work, according to the company’s owner. But the company is among few contractors working on lead abatement in Milwaukee. Over the years the city has chipped away at the issue and roughly 18,000 homes have completed lead abatement. The state Department of Health Services estimates there are between 300,000 and 400,000 homes with lead health hazards, based on the number of homes built before 1978. But Joel Courtney, who manages the lead abatement program at the Social Development Commission, said it’s difficult to attract contractors to perform abatement work.

Read more from Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service: Milwaukee sees decrease in lead testing during pandemic

The byline "Wisconsin Watch" represents members of the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism's editorial and public engagement and marketing staff.