You never know who might walk into the reception area at Grace

This afternoon, it was people from the United Way looking for a press conference.

“I don’t know anything about it,” I replied. Over the next few minutes, a larger group assembled, the cameras came, and eventually we all made our way downstairs into the Men’s Drop-In Shelter at Grace.

It turns out the press conference was about three local men’s experiences on the street last week. Pat Schneider provides details about local businessman Tim Metcalfe, Michael Johnson of the Boys and Girls Clubs, and Will Green of the Salvation Army, going undercover to experience what life is like for homeless men in Madison.


The stories they told are heartwarming evidence of a generous community, with passers-by, restaurant managers, homeless people, and shelter staff acting with generosity and compassion.

One thing I learned this afternoon: current sleeping  capacity at Grace and the two overflow shelters is 140; last night 139 stayed in the three facilities. What will the numbers be when it gets cold?


This week’s update on homelessness in Madison

It’s increasingly clear that there will be fewer services and no day center available for homeless people this winter. Pat Schneider has the story. Her reporting on the exchange between Mayor Soglin and Alder Palm:

Mayor Paul Soglin forcefully repeated his conviction that the city cannot and should not be expected to take care of homeless people, many of whom he believes are dropped off in downtown Madison by nearby communities or agencies like the state Department of Corrections.

“I want to know why some struggling household in this city should pay for that,” he told members of the Board of Estimates. “I’m sick and tired of seeing letters in newspapers saying ‘you have responsibility to take care of the homeless.’ Oh, there are no homeless in suburban communities, no homeless in the townships, no homeless outside of Dane County?”

Palm responded that if people are living here now, they’re Madison residents.

“We should treat them like they are our neighbors. I’m sorry if there’s a huge political battle with the state, other municipalities and neighborhood associations,” Palm said. “At end of the day, none of that helps people trying to find a warm safe place to stay and get assistance.”

Ah, but there’s the newly renovated Central Library where homeless people can spend the day. Here’s Joe Tarr’s story.

We’ll be talking at Grace this evening at 7:00 about these developments and what else we might do to respond to the ongoing crisis in our neighborhood.



The shelter system and the prison system

A really fine article by Pat Schneider on the direct line from the prison system to the homeless shelter.

Linda Ketcham, executive director of Madison-area Urban Ministry, a nonprofit agency that assists criminal offenders returning to the community, estimates that 75 to 80 percent of people her agency assists in its offender “re-entry” programs are homeless. “The shelter system is the only option“ for many of them, she said.

I’ve blogged about this before here. I can confirm several points in the article. I know that guys come straight from the parole office to the shelter. I know that sex offenders that are released to their own communities come to Madison because there’s no place for them back home.
I remember several years ago a young man, a teenager, brought by corrections officials to the shelter from whatever prison he’d been in elsewhere in the state. His parents came down too. They wanted to know about the shelter, how he would fare, what would happen to him. For whatever reason, he wasn’t released to them. What I remember most about him was the look of fear on his face. Whatever he’d faced in prison was nothing like the uncertainty he was facing now. I have no idea what happened to him.
His reaction is quite common among those I’ve talked to who have just been released from prison. They’re facing incredible odds in their efforts to put their lives back together. In addition to all the social services they need, they also need a support system to help them, to encourage them, and to offer a helping hand when they make mistakes. Instead, they come to the shelter where they’re anonymous, where they’re surrounded by people who may or may not want to help them, and where access to the services they need is a maze in a city they probably don’t know.
The re-entry program run by MUM mentioned in the article does amazing things.

Madison, a town without pity, updated

Joe Tarr (Isthmus) reports on last night’s demo and Homeless Issues Committee meeting, where, you guessed it, a day resource center was on the agenda. Pat Schneider has also written about it.

Because I’m feeling rather nostalgic this evening, I thought I would link to blogposts in 2011 and 2012 that addressed the same issue.

From August, 2012: “A day shelter for Madison” (in which I talk about a patient discharged from the VA hospital and sent to Grace)

From October, 2012

From November, 2012 (my testimony before the County Board of Supervisors)

From November, 2011 (with links to earlier developments in the story)

Couldn’t we all just save energy by referring back to these earlier debates and conversations?  It’s political football season again, with our vulnerable homeless population serving as the football, getting kicked around by bureaucrats and elected officials.

An Article on the Daytime Shelter and Sarah Gillmore

Pat Schneider is effusive in her praise.

From the article:

day-to-day tasks to keep the center running — from greeters to food service to clean-up — are performed by volunteer users of the center. An advisory council of shelter users gives feedback on operations, and a community justice group discusses how to minimize conflicts.

Having a role in running the operation is important, Gillmore told me.

“The idea of someone being able to contribute their skills is so powerful. We’re based on building a sense of empowerment to increase self-worth and make life changes,” she said. By being involved with running the center, as well as participating in support groups and connecting with local service agencies, shelter users make steps toward more stable lives.





Red tape in the way of a day shelter in Madison

I’ve been blogging about the impact of the library and Capitol closures on the homeless in Madison (previous entries here, here, here, and here). We’ve been working on solutions. One of the most promising was to use a vacant car dealership, now owned by the city, as a temporary space through March. Pat Schneider reports on this development, and on the red tape the city has thrown up around it. She’s been doing a great job keeping on this story.

As Schneider observes:

Winter is bearing down, and I’ve got to wonder what sense requiring a landscaping plan makes for a property in Wisconsin that will be used November through March. Not much grows here then. Should planning for a temporary use like this really require restriping the parking lot? A public hearing makes sense, but is there a way to expedite the process to accommodate some of the city’s most vulnerable residents?


Hmm, indeed!
One piece of good news. At least Savory Sunday has been given a permit to serve lunch in the Capitol on Sunday afternoons.

Developments on the library closure

Pat Schneider blogs about the possibility of using a vacant business as a day shelter for the homeless this winter with the closure of the Central Library and the Capitol.

I’ve been participating in these meetings and it’s clear that there are no good options (although there might be some other things in the works).

What fascinates me is the way this conversation emerged and is developing. It’s a response to a crisis, but there’s been no mention of the fact that in the best of times, neither the library or the capitol is adequate to provide for the needs of homeless people during the day, no matter what the weather. Perhaps we will be able to have that conversation as well.

Update on the county budget–sure, the churches can do it

There have been more articles about the proposed cuts to human services in the Dane County budget. Hearings have been taking place this week, and Pat Schneider of the Cap Times has been asking hard questions about the proposed cuts in funding to the Salvation Army’s Warming House (the warming house provides mattresses for homeless families in the SA’s headquarters when their shelter overflows). Also on the cutting floor is the county’s support for Community Action Coalition, which serves Dane County food pantries. Lynn Green, director of the Human Services department, rationalizes the cuts in this way:

“This community cares. It does what it can to fill in the gaps,” Green told me in an interview Friday. Church groups and others already run food and clothing programs, she says. “I believe this is something this community can rally around and pick up.”

The article is here, and an earlier report on the budget hearings is here. I have previously posted about this crisis. I don’t know if the numbers of people visiting our food pantry have increased in the past month or so,  but I have the sense from helping out at First Mondays at Grace, as well as my daily rounds on the square, that the demand on services is increasing.
I’m really not sure how much more we can do. The economy is difficult for everyone, and many of our parishioners are state workers who have seen their take-home pay and benefits cut, leaving them with less to give.