County exec cites collaboration as path to addressing challenges
Today, Milwaukee County Executive David Crowley delivered the 2023 State of the County Address at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, marking his first in-person address since being elected in April 2020. Crowley focused his remarks around four areas — behavioral and mental health, public safety, housing, and transportation. Here are a few highlights from each:
Behavioral and mental health
Crowley started by touting the Mental Health Emergency Center, which opened in September 2022 to offer around-the-clock services that address emergency situations in the short term and connect individuals with long-term support. He referred to a community-based approach at multiple points as the driver of “a safer and healthier Milwaukee County.”
Crowley also mentioned:
- $32 million the county committed to a new Marcia P. Coggs Health and Human Services Center in the King Park Neighborhood.
- The county’s $21 million investment to expand the Community Access to Recovery Services (CARS) program for adults experiencing behavioral health issues like substance abuse.
- $11 million in opioid settlement funds allocated to address the county’s opioid epidemic, including harm reduction vending machines.
- The Healthy County Challenge launched in partnership with The Ability Center.
Crowley began this section by saying, “Public health is public safety,” and outlined a series of steps taken to improve programs for veterans and seniors. Among them were $4 million in infrastructure improvements for county-owned senior centers and a program from Milwaukee County Veterans’ Services that provided 60 grants to veterans in need of assistance.
Turning to youth-focused measures, Crowley highlighted the Credible Messengers program that connects those in the youth justice program with adults from similar backgrounds to provide mentorship. He cited data that indicates more than 75% of those in the program haven’t reoffended.
Crowley also mentioned the Department of Health and Human Services’ Community Prevention Program & Family Supports, which will launch later this year as one way the county strives to “be highly responsive to youth involved in high-risk behavior. We will immediately connect them with a support system that addresses root causes and offers opportunities, resources, and guidance to change their trajectory.”
This section was the longest of Crowley’s remarks and also included:
- A joint project between the state and the Medical College of Wisconsin to create a Forensic Science and Protective Medicine Center at the Milwaukee Regional Medical Center.
- Progress clearing the backlog in the court system, pointing out that “we hope to see the backlog cleared by 2024.”
- Rehabilitative opportunities provided by the Community Reintegration Center and the new Family Engagement Center.
Collaboration was at the top of Crowley’s comments on his goal “to move Milwaukee off the list of most segregated communities in the country.” He mentioned mayors Dennis McBride (Wauwatosa) and Dan Devine (West Allis), as well as Shorewood Village President Ann McKaig, all of whom helped create affordable housing in those communities. He also highlighted:
- The county’s Housing First program, which moves unsheltered residents into permanent housing.
- A $2.5 million investment in the Acts Housing home-acquisition fund, which has set a goal to buy 100 properties in 2023 and convert them into homes, “with 80% of homeowners coming from communities of color.”
- The recent acquisition of 90 lots in the King Park Neighborhood that will become 120 single-family homes.
Crowley outlined the challenges the county faces in ensuring that people can “access the employment and recreational opportunities in any ZIP code,” including reckless driving, lack of transit options and transportation infrastructure. He mentioned several measures intended to address those challenges, including:
- The East-West Bus Rapid Transit system that will connect downtown Milwaukee to Wauwatosa — and points in between — along a 9-mile service route.
- A call for the county and its communities “to create a comprehensive, data-driven plan to increase safety for all who use our streets and roadways.”
Crowley wrapped up the address with a warning of sorts for state leaders, pointing out that the county’s current revenues can’t keep up with the cost of services. He also sounded a positive note, saying, “I continue to be encouraged by conversations with the state legislature and the Governor on local government reform that includes a 1% sales tax for Milwaukee County.”
He added: “I’m optimistic that we can come together to face all our challenges, improve both the health and safety of our neighborhoods, and move Milwaukee County in the direction of the motto of this great state: forward.”
To hear Crowley's full remarks, you can rewatch the livestream here.