This week in homelessness

Another flurry of news (to go with the week’s snowstorm) on homelessness in Madison.

First the not-so-good. The property Occupy Madison was hoping to purchase for housing was sold to another buyer. The group held a successful fundraiser this week and is hoping to locate another property that would suit its needs.

Token Creek, where Occupy has spent most of the winter was under water this week. Fortunately, churches in Sun Prairie again opened their doors. They have to leave the county park in February, and there are no solutions to this ongoing crisis. Here’s a pic of the scene from earlier this week:

76321_4144614817646_874521071_nIt’s not my photo; it was shared with me and if you would like to know more, I would be happy to speak with you privately.

A couple of pieces on Sarah Gillmore and the Day Center. From Joe Tarr of Isthmus, a profile and a look at what’s happening at the day center, as well as some questions about the future after the temporary facility closes in March. I’ll put a plug in for Sarah. I first met her almost three years ago and was knocked over by her passion, her no-nonsense approach, and her deep commitment to the homeless community. She rocks! Here’s an interview with her as well.

Also from Joe Tarr, a brief piece on an effort to provide a shelter for homeless vets. The man he interviews was homeless and a guest at the Drop-In Shelter in December after being released from the VA hospital. Where have we heard that story before?

Right now, the best place to find out about needs of the homeless community in Madison and how you can help, is the Feeding the State Street Family facebook page.

It’s going to be bitterly cold tonight again.

Update on homelessness in Madison

First, an update on the day shelter on E. Washington (from a letter written by the director, Sarah Gillmore, to neighbors (h/t Brenda Konkel):

Greetings Neighbors,

As Week 7 begins, I want to share information and request that if anyone has comments, observations, questions, and/or compliments, to please share them back.

We have been averaging around 125 people/day.

Over this period of time, with this volume of people, we have contacted MPD for assistance 5 times:

First call (mid-December) was to report that a new-to-us guest hit another guest. Our justice team got the “hitter” out of our building within seconds, and contacted MPD to make report.

The other four calls to MPD were for assistance in helping four separate guests obtain medical help.

Our volunteer team continues to do patrols of the neighborhood; we have added litter pick-up to this task, as well.

We have needs for volunteers to conduct workshops in: child programs, adult art/crafts, adult computer literacy, and tax preparation.

Thanks for working together with us. There are about 12 more weeks left with us as your neighbors

I won’t compare those statistics with the average number of calls to 911 from the Drop-In Shelter…

At our most recent First Monday meal, I was struck by how guests actively responded to problems. Guests are beginning to take responsibility for making sure others behave appropriately.

News has finally broken about the efforts of Occupy Madison to purchase a building on Madison’s north side that may ultimately provide single room occupancy for homeless people. The article from is here. Isthmus coverage here.

I’m sure this will be a contentious issue as well but for all the NIMBY’s out there, a recent study suggests that homeless facilities may increase neighboring property values

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.





Visiting the day center for the first time

Today, I made the long journey around Capitol Square to the new day center that’s been open for two weeks. I probably wouldn’t have done it if I hadn’t had been given a task.

I attended the Annual Meeting of the Wisconsin Council of Churches today in Waunakee. The keynote speaker was Palker Palmer and I will write about what he said in the next couple of days. This post is about something else.

We had lunch–sandwich fixings, soup, and dessert. There was a lot of bread and coldcuts left over and as we were finishing lunch one of the WCC staff members came over to me and asked if we could use the leftovers.

There’s a backstory here. People are bringing food, donations of clothing, and the like to us all of the time. These donations are intended for the men’s shelter that is housed at Grace and operated by Porchlight. Often the donations come when there is no Porchlight staff on the premises and our staff have to deliberate about what to do with the items. We have limited storage space and a lot of groups that use our kitchen and other facilities, so we can’t really accommodate large quantities of donations. But we also don’t want to turn people away when they bring things to us, or tell them to go somewhere else. So when I was asked about the food, I immediately began thinking about all of the issues related to receiving a donation of this sort. After a lengthy pause, I agreed to take the food.

By the time I moved my car to make it easier to move the donated food, I had lit on a solution. The Day Center on E. Washington needs food for the people who use its facility during the day. I knew there would be staff on hand who would tell me immediately if they could use what I brought. And it also gave me a reason to drop in and see how things were going.

So I made my way over to E. Washington Ave. this afternoon with several pounds of turkey, roast beef, and cheese, as well as lots of bread. It’s amazing. There are people in the courtyard, smoking and chatting and when you go in the door, you’re overwhelmed by the number of people in the space, talking, visiting, hanging out. The check-in desk is manned by two volunteers, who this afternoon were probably homeless people. I found Sarah Gillmore in a backroom talking with someone. I asked her about the food, and she immediately accepted it, saying “that’ll be lunch, tomorrow.” She asked if I needed help. I saw someone I knew, called him by name, and asked him to come out to the car to help me. We brought the food into the kitchen, where another volunteer, another guest, was clearly running the kitchen.

Sarah and I chatted briefly. I asked how things were going. It’s obvious that the shelter is filling an important need. I hope that politicians, media, and others will drop by and check it out. I’m sure there will be problems–any time you get that many people in a confined space for a long period of time, there will be conflict. But what struck me was the conviviality, the community that was developing. People greeted me as I came in, engaged me in conversation. They were talking together as well. Sarah seems to have things under control. One of the great things she’s doing is involving guests in the operation of the facility.

Oh, and about those donations? We’ll be directing them to the Day Center and to Feeding the State Street Family. And I hope you will send items that way, too.