A brewing tenant-landlord dispute in Windsor has homeless advocates playing up the need for low rents and support systems as people leave shelters.
Lori Cook, who owns a duplex in Windsor, said she rented to two tenants who started at the Salvation Army of Dane County's shelter -- without first having them prove their identification or income. The tenants countered that Cook had lost a money order with the rent money, for which neither side could provide documentation.
The case, which is scheduled for a court hearing, is an extreme example of how families escaping homelessness need a more strict system to help them, said Deedra Atkinson, senior vice president of community impact for the United Way of Dane County.
"In shelters, you really can't begin to work on the complex issues that got you homeless in the first place," she said. "People need to have security in where they're sleeping at night and where they're going home to."
The United Way's "Housing First" program assisted 549 families in Dane County last year, Atkinson said. But an estimated 400 families remain on their own.
The program provides subsidized housing, often with the family paying low rents, and gives them a case manager to follow up on their progress turning their lives around.
It's proven to be 80 percent effective, compared with a 30 percent success rate for people who try to make the move from shelters on their own, Atkinson said.
Raven Fisher moved into Cook's downstairs apartment unit without the help of a case worker, the mother of six said.
Fisher, who's from Chicago, was working at an Aldi's in Madison until the birth of her infant son last month, and said Cook lost the rent money she sent.
"Why the (expletive) would I not pay her? Do you think I would want to be homeless with six (expletive) kids?" Fisher said in an interview with WISC-TV. "I came from Chicago to give my kids a better life -- I've been here a year in February. You think I paid her for 9 (expletive) months and then out of the blue decided to stop?"
Fisher and Georgia Ford, a mother of five who rents the upstairs unit, face a Dec. 11 eviction hearing in Dane County court.
Ford said she lost her job in August.
Fisher said she didn't understand why Cook said she had never received the money, but said she wouldn't pay now that Cook is taking her to court.
"I'm not giving her a dime," Fisher said. "Unless the post office man took it out, put it in his pocket and walked down the street -- well, now, you're playing games."
Cook said, because of the lost rental income, she needed to sell the duplex but can't until the tenants are out.
"Instead of taking advantage of the opportunity, they took advantage of me," Cook said. "They broke the circle of kindness, and I feel pretty bad about that."