Urban Triage and Its Holistic Approach to Service: Who Is Watching the Kids?

Brandi Grayson

Brandi Grayson in the Urban Triage offices on S. Butler Street near the Capitol Square

By Jonathan Gramling

Urban Triage’s approach to transformative change is to provide holistic services to youth and families. For many vulnerable families, their problems are like a Rubik’s Cube. You change something over here and then something pops out of place over there. Focusing on all of the issues a family and youth may be facing is Urban Triage’s approach to transforming lives.

During the height of the pandemic, Urban Triage was one of the chief administrators of the CORE Program, which issued federal rent abatement dollars during the pandemic to keep families in their homes and in place. Those funds are essentially gone and so Urban Triage is focusing on the other services it has provided since it was founded in 2019.

“There is no other money in the County right now for rental assistance,” Brandi Grayson, Urban Triage’s founder and CEO said. “That’s kind of scary because the need is so great. The rents have gotten higher. During the last year, there has been this trend that landlords are increasing rents by $400 at a time. It’s really bad. Back in the day, it was like $50 here, maybe $75-$100 at the most. But folks’ rent is going up by like $400. My daughter, for example, she was on the east side. Her rent was $1,800 for a two bedroom apartment over by East Towne Mall and it went up to $2,200. That has been the experience of a lot of our clients, community members and staff. Our staff are adjusting, moving, trying to find cheaper units and apartments, which also means additional money needed for moving. But there is no money. I don’t know what our community is going to do. From what I am witnessing in the conversations with the City and the County and other folks who are part of our homeless consortium team, which handles homelessness and housing stability challenges in Dane County, no one is allocating money. No one is trying to figure it out. It’s kind of like, ‘Oh well, we don’t have anything.’ I do know that there is money out there for mortgages and mortgage assistance. But there is none for folks who are vulnerable and trying to survive.”

In the past Urban Triage did provide a limited amount of rental assistance.

“t used to be just Crowdfunding,” Grayson said. “Individuals would reach out and then we would Crowdfund to keep them in housing.”

While Urban Triage is still working on housing issues, the resources are a sliver of what they could provide under CORE.

“We have some grants rolling out for rapid rehousing,” Grayson said. “We’re taking over a contract that Catholic Charities has with Beacon and Dane County. We’ll be providing navigation support inside The Beacon for homeless folks. And we have rapid rehousing. That’s also only homeless folks. And then we have Doubled Up. We have a small doubled up grant that we won’t even promote because it is so small. It’s like we can only help a couple of people. The grant will allow us to place folks in housing for up to 12 months with rental support. We can pay their rent.”

There are many sides to the homeless issue. And who is homeless can be a complex issue. Is it only people on the street or is there another hidden population as well?

“Madison and the Dane County area only has support for people who are homeless defined by HUD,” Grayson said. “And what that means is to be homeless, you have to be sleeping on the street. As you know, most people aren’t sleeping on the street. They might be living in a hotel. Or they may be house hopping or they may be doubled up, staying at their aunty’s house.  There might be 10 people in a two-bedroom apartment. Those folks don’t qualify for anything. They get no support, so you literally have to go to a shelter, stay in a shelter. When we go out to interact with you, we have to see you on the street.”

Another area that Urban Triage has been working is urban agriculture, teaching people to raise their own food.

“Our farm is housed at The Farley Center for Social Justice in Verona,” Grayson said. “Their nonprofit is an incubator for farmers. They offer land for farmers for free. There are multiple farmers, multiple growers, folks growing flowers and all kinds of stuff. They sell it at the market. The Farley Center gave us two acres of land. We also grow all kinds of produce. And every summer, we give out between 2,000-8,000 lbs of produce depending on the weather.”

With the wave of the legalization of marijuana around the country, there has to be an infrastructure and supply chain developed to support the industry. Wisconsin is now almost completely surrounded by states where marijuana is legal. And Grayson feels Wisconsin is destined to join them.

“This year, we launched our first hemp program, which is our first pilot program,” Grayson said. “We’re teaching folks how to grow hemp, how to process hemp and take it to the market. We’re growing the hemp plant and turning it into CBD and then turning that into a product. Our objective with that is one day, cannabis is going to be legal. Eventually, it is going to happen. So Urban Triage wanted to make sure that we created a space and opportunity for vulnerable people who are often not included in the conversation to be included and enter the entrepreneurial business as a part of it starting with CBD.”