On any given night in Milwaukee over 1,500 people are homeless…and women and children are now experiencing the fastest growth in homelessness in our nation! Milwaukee is the 4th poorest city across the nation. Women and families have been a growing segment of the homeless population since the late 1990s; many of the women served at the Cathedral Center (CCI) are mothers separated from their children due to poverty and homelessness.

People who are homeless can be sheltered, unsheltered, doubled up, or living on the streets. According to HUD’s definition, an individual or family is considered homeless, who...

  • Lack a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence;
  • Has a primary nighttime residence that is a place not designed for or ordinarily used as a regular sleeping accommodation for human beings, including a car, park, abandoned building, bus or train station, airport, or camping ground;
  • Is living in a supervised publicly or privately operated shelter designated to provide temporary living arrangements;
  • Resided in a shelter or place not meant for human habitation and is exiting an institution where he/she temporarily resided;
  • Will imminently lose their housing, has no subsequent residence identified and lacks the resources or support networks needed to obtain other permanent housing;
  • Unaccompanied youth and families with children and youth (defined as homeless under other Federal statutes) who have experienced a long-term period without living independently, persistent instability and can be expected to continue in such status for an extended period of time because of chronic disabilities, chronic physical health or mental health conditions, substance addiction, histories of domestic violence or childhood abuse, the presence of a child or youth with a disability, or multiple barriers to employment.

According to The National Alliance to End Homelessness, "Under the Department of Housing and Urban Development's definition, a chronically homeless individual is someone who has experienced homelessness for a year or longer, or who has experienced at least four episodes of homelessness in the last three years, and has a disability. A family with an adult member who meets this description would also be considered chronically homeless." In July 2015, the Cathedral Center was pleased to receive an expanded contract with Milwaukee County through the My Home Program, a HUD-funded program designed to assist chronically homeless, disabled individuals secure affordable, permanent housing.

They say each of us is only a few steps away from being homeless. When you think about it, if you don’t have family or friends to turn to or should a couple of the following hardships hit at one time, it becomes clearer to understand homelessness.

Some of the major causes that can lead up to a person becoming homeless include: significant relationship breakdown; loss of income—you or your working partner; sudden health crisis; eviction or loss of home; mental health diagnosis or relapse; abuse; and insufficient or no funds in savings. On a daily basis, people facing homelessness must make “lesser evil choices” in order to survive. Sometimes this is choosing medication or a warm place to stay over choosing food.

In 2015 there were 3,324 unaccompanied women and 3,052 families assessed for placement into emergency shelter. Of those, 985 women and 712 families were referred directly into emergency shelter. Yet, there are only 136 beds for unaccompanied women and 91 rooms for families in the Milwaukee area. CCI’s shelter provides 32 beds for women and 8 of those family rooms. Clearly our community is in need of not only emergency shelter beds, but services that will assist individuals and families to end their homelessness, sustain their independence and, ideally, support them to avoid becoming homeless whenever possible.

Community-wide collaborative efforts to provide emergency shelter and permanent housing accessibility are ensured by the Milwaukee Continuum of Care, Shelter & Transitional Housing Task Force, IMPACT 2-1-1 and Coordinated Entry System.

IMPACT 2-1-1, a central access point for people in need, operates the Coordinated Entry system. Individuals and families facing homelessness are connected with organizations that provide housing or case management services in a systematic and efficient manner. The following shelters utilize Coordinated Entry: Cathedral Center; Guest House; Hope House; Salvation Army; and Milwaukee Women’s Center.

Since 2003, the Cathedral Center has been a member of the Milwaukee Continuum of Care (CoC), a 100+ member coalition for services and advocacy for people experiencing homelessness in Milwaukee. The CoC coordinates the community’s annual HUD application for housing and oversees the continuum of services for homeless individuals and families. CCI is an active member of the Shelter & Transitional Housing Task Force, a committee of the CoC that is the planning and coordination entity for Milwaukee’s shelter and transitional housing system. CCI’s executive director, Donna Rongholt-Migan, is currently vice president.

The Cathedral Center advocates at the city, county and state levels for basic needs funding; utilizes a Housing First approach to shelter entry; and was the first shelter to fully implement Coordinated Entry. CCI has participated in the development of Milwaukee’s 10 Year Plan to End Homelessness and mid-course revisions, as well as related work groups.

Our service delivery is strategic, and best practices are used to develop programs that fulfill our mission to end homelessness. We have a professional staff of 10 full time professionals, 3 with advanced degrees, 3 pursuing advanced degrees, 2 with bachelor degrees and 2 with combined experience over 30 years. Of our 14 hourly staff, 6 have bachelor degrees, 1 has an associate degree and several have certifications in direct service. Staff members receive annual training in food safety, mandated reporting, team building and special focus areas such as trauma informed care.

In addition, during 2015, 1,585 volunteers gave over 7,000 hours of service, enhancing services to women and families through meals, after school support, job skill training, and other projects.

“An end to homelessness means that every community will have a systematic response in place that ensures homelessness is prevented whenever possible or is otherwise a rare, brief, and non-recurring experience.” (Opening Doors; Executive Summary in the Federal Plan to End Homelessness: Opening Doors (

In 2000, the National Alliance to End Homelessness released A Plan, Not a Dream: How to End Homelessness in Ten Years - a bold, innovative strategy to end homelessness in the United States.

Homelessness has so permeated the American landscape that it may seem that the social conundrum has always been a part of our society. However, homelessness is a thoroughly modern phenomenon. Until the 1980s, there was not widespread homelessness in America. But tonight, nearly 700,000 people will experience homelessness across the country, despite a $2 billion dollar a year infrastructure designed to deal with the problem. We must:

  1. Quickly identify and engage people at risk of and experiencing homelessness.
  2. Intervene to prevent the loss of housing and divert people from entering the homelessness services system.
  3. Provide immediate access to shelter and crisis services, without barriers to entry, while permanent stable housing and appropriate supports are being secured.
  4. When homelessness does occur, quickly connect people to housing assistance and services—tailored to their unique needs and strengths—to help them achieve and maintain stable housing.

The 4 Pillars of Milwaukee’s 10 Year Plan to End Homelessness:
  1. Prevention and Emergency Shelter
  2. Economic Support & Employment
  3. Mental Health, Substance Abuse and Support Services
  4. Permanent Supportive Housing


  1. Stable housing is key
  2. Successful programs use a Housing First model, which includes:
  • Rapid Rehousing
  • Permanent Supported Housing
  • Low/No barrier access (screening in vs screening out)
  • Support services while in housing
  • Strength based approach
  • Trauma informed
On the Internet
Read These Books:
  • American Dream: Three Women, Ten Kids, and a Nation’s Drive to End Welfare by Jason DeParle (Published 2004)
  • Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond (Published 2016)

The path out of homelessness starts with getting into shelter and receiving additional support. This year the Cathedral Center must raise $700,000 in private support. Put yourself into the shoes of someone in the predicament of nowhere to live, in need of emergency shelter, care and connections to rebuild their life. Even when they have the hope and the inner-strength to move toward independence, more than anything, they are in need of support. If you are interested in learning more about our work at the Cathedral Center, we’d be honored to give you a tour of our shelter, to meet our staff and show you how we’re helping women and families end homelessness, one life at a time.

If you have questions or would like to get involved, please contact Morgan Sweet, Director of Resource Development, at 414-831-0394 ext. 2127 or

How You Can Help


The Cathedral Center

845 N. Van Buren Street
Milwaukee, WI 53202

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The Cathedral Center