Milwaukee Airport collecting spare change to help the homeless

MILWAUKEE (AP) — Milwaukee County wants to collect spare pocket change from airport travelers to help the homeless.

James Mathy, the Milwaukee County housing administrator, told Wisconsin Public Radiothat containers near security checkpoints at General Mitchell International Airport in Milwaukee will accept change donations to support rental assistance and employment aid for people struggling with homelessness.

Mathy was inspired by a similar program at Denver International Airport, which raised more than $280,000 in three years.

"It was just a really innovative idea as a way to further a public-private partnership around homelessness," he said.

Mathy said he's excited to see how much the program will be able to raise, though the Milwaukee airport doesn't see the same amount of traffic as Denver.

Denver had more than 58 million passengers in 2016, while Mitchell airport had almost 7 million passengers, according to passenger traffic reports.

Proceeds will go toward the Greater Milwaukee Foundation's Housing First Endowment, he said. No money will be spent on administration, he said.

"One hundred percent of these funds go directly to rental assistance, case management and employment services," Mathy said.

Housing First is a partnership between the housing division, the city of Milwaukee and the city's Housing Authority. It gives people who are homeless permanent housing and then connects them to services to help them deal with mental illness, addiction or other problems.

"That's really made a big difference," Mathy said. "So individuals are getting their basic needs met and then are able to focus on treatment, they're able to focus on employment and those other things."

Milwaukee County has seen homelessness drop by 40 percent since the program launched in 2015, he said.

Mathy expects the containers to be available by July 4.

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