Scuffles Break out Between Wisconsin Flood Victims in Line for Food Vouchers

Pushing and shoving broke out among some of the 2,500 people hit hard by recent floods who lined up outside a county office early Monday in hopes of collecting free food vouchers.

Some residents told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel they heard from friends or at food pantries that they could get free vouchers to replace food lost in recent floods and power outages. But the Marcia P. Coggs Human Services Center was just taking names for a state voucher program.

Scuffles began breaking out around 7 a.m. with people shoving, pushing, and taking a door off its hinges, police said. Police arrived in dozens of squad cars and restored order.

There were no serious injuries or arrests, police spokeswoman Anne E. Schwartz said. Nor did police ask people to leave.

"We're still trying to figure out why so many people showed up," Schwartz said.

Charline Britt was crushed against a door and passed out. She felt feet stomp on her back as people rushed into the center when the doors opened at 8 a.m., she said.

"They just went crazy down there, just totally crazy," said Britt, 52.

Paramedics gave her oxygen, but Britt declined a trip to the hospital. Instead, she waited to apply for assistance and said she would visit her doctor later Monday. Britt was seeking help after her basement flooded.

Eileen Force, a spokeswoman for Mayor Tom Barrett, said some of the people in line had heard rumors that officials were giving out vouchers, not just taking names.

County officials issued a statement later Monday saying Milwaukee County residents who apply for the vouchers by Friday would receive them. The county is administering the program for the state.

Some people at the center said they were told it would be a month or two before they received money or food assistance. Yvonne Love expressed frustration before running to catch a bus to a temporary employment agency.

"Now I have to try and get (to) a food pantry," said Love, who has children 8, 10 and 14. "I've got to feed my kids."

Milwaukee Common Council President Willie Hines asked for contributions to America's Second Harvest of Wisconsin, a food bank that serves the city.

"The food crisis in Milwaukee — and throughout the United States — is worse than many of us have realized," Hines said in a statement. "We expect long lines for free food in Third World countries; we don't expect a line of 2,500 people waiting for food vouchers at the Marcia P. Coggs Center."