Part of Wisconsin Opioid Settlement to Fund Housing Program

Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers (D) is preparing to allocate a large fraction of opioid settlement money toward a new housing program for those in recovery.

In February 2021, an assemblage of 47 states including Wisconsin announced an agreement with the consulting firm McKinsey & Company would yield a total of $573 million for the jurisdictions in recompense for the corporation’s alleged role in the opioid epidemic. Prior to the settlement, state Attorney General Josh Kaul (D) and prosecutors across the country undertook an investigation that led to allegations that McKinsey devised promotions for high-strength pain medications resulting in widespread, improper use. 

The Badger State got $11 million out of the settlement resolving the multi-state probe. Evers said $2 million of that amount will be used to house homeless individuals who doctors have diagnosed as suffering from opioid use disorder (OUD). 

The Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) and the Wisconsin Department of Administration (DOA) will oversee the program. Starting this week, a competitive grant process will determine the housing organizations that participate in it.

“Wisconsinites across our state have experienced the tragedy of the opioid epidemic firsthand, whether they are working to overcome opioid use disorder, they have a loved one, friend or neighbor who is, or they’ve lost someone they love to this deadly epidemic,” Evers said in a statement describing his Recovery Voucher Program. “These funds will be critically important in supporting those working through their recovery to find hope, healing and help folks regain dignity and security through safe housing.”

DHS Deputy Secretary Deb Standridge expressed her gratitude toward the governor and said lack of housing and other necessities often impedes the road to recovery for many people struggling with OUD. 

“Too often individuals in treatment and recovery for substance use disorder lack the safe and stable housing necessary to support them in their journey,” she said.

According to the D.C.-based National Alliance to End Homelessness, an average of roughly 4,900 people in Wisconsin are homeless at a given time. About eight out of every 10,000 Wisconsinites lack housing. That figure is especially pronounced in Dane County with 11.4 per 10,000, Milwaukee County with 9.1 and Racine County with 14. 

While government housing efforts like the federal “Housing First” have not mitigated the homelessness problem, critics of statism like the American Enterprise Institute’s Howard Husock have lauded efforts to combine addiction and mental-health treatment with housing aid.

“The street homeless, especially, need help that must go beyond housing…,” he wrote in a recent Hill op-ed lauding federal legislation that would make “wraparound services” like rehabilitation a more integral part of housing policy.

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Bradley Vasoli is managing editor of The Wisconsin Daily Star. Follow Brad on Twitter at @BVasoli. Email tips to [email protected].



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