Still dithering in Wisconsin

An article in today’s Wisconsin State Journal profiles the responses of two of my Madison colleagues to last week’s court decision striking down Wisconsin’s ban on same-sex marriage. Andy Jones, Rector of St. Andrew’s, had this to say:

The Rev. Andy Jones, pastor of St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Madison, would like to perform same-sex marriages but his denomination does not allow it. The Episcopal Diocese of Milwaukee, of which Madison Episcopal churches are a part, also prohibits same-sex blessing ceremonies, although other Episcopal dioceses allow them.

“Longtime members of St. Andrew’s — faithful, committed couples — long to have their church community affirm who they are and to have their church bless their relationship,” Jones said. “It pains me that I can’t do that.”

The article also quotes Miranda Hassett, who showed her support at the City-County building last Friday: “It was really important for me to be there as a priest and as a progressive Christian,” she said.

I share their views and point out this from Bishop Miller’s letter of 2013 on same-sex blessings:
Furthermore, I stated my belief that the right to a civil marriage should be available to all people, regardless of sexual orientation and that I would support those seeking to overturn the ban on same-gender marriage in Wisconsin.
 You can read it all here:
Meanwhile, the Attorney General is threatening to prosecute County Clerks who issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. My friend, Scott McDonnell, Dane County Clerk, responds:

Dane County Clerk Scott McDonell said the possibility of prosecution “doesn’t keep me up at night.” McDonell, a Democrat andthe first clerk to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples in Wisconsin, called Van Hollen’s claim of possible charges ridiculous.

“He needs to call off the dogs and turn off the fire hoses,” he said, invoking extreme police responses to some civil rights protests of the 1960s.

A New Era? Changing attitudes and approaches to homelessness in Madison

There seems to be a revolution taking place in Madison and Dane County. Thanks to a number of factors and the efforts of a remarkable group of people, new initiatives are beginning and there is evidence of changing attitudes among our political leadership and wider community. I’m excited to be a witness and in a small way a participant in these changes.

One change, the Warming Center, which finally opened a couple of weeks ago on E. Washington Ave. The first day it opened, 57 people made use of it. It’s a temporary solution with a permanent facility funded by Dane County in the works. I received a plea from Scott McDonnell (chair of the County Board of Supervisors) in which he lists the shelter’s needs. You can download that letter here: McDonnell_letter.

Some of my excitement is due to the work of Tami Miller and her group “Feeding the State Street Family.” The Cap Times recently profiled Miller who began volunteering on her own a couple of years ago. Miller and her group reach out to homeless people where they are instead of expecting homeless people to seek them out. They provide meals, make midnight drop-offs of food and supplies. She is also experimenting with new programs, like a one-on-one mentoring program that may begin as early as January. She and I had a great conversation on Tuesday about how Grace can support her efforts. We also talked about some of the unmet needs in the city and the county.

One impact she and others have had is to shift the approach of the politicians. Mayor Soglin who has come off as very heavy-handed and tone deaf about homelessness over the last months, has been much more conciliatory in the last weeks. And County Executive Joe Parisi, who has made several mis-steps himself, is making similar efforts to reach out. Here’s an article about that.

The focus now from the City of Madison is on figuring out where the gaps in services are. It’s interesting that the 2011 annual report on homelessness in Dane County has finally appeared, just a few weeks before the end of 2012. That document is here: 2011 Annual Report revised

It makes for interesting reading. The statistics come primarily from social service agencies and shelters. It’s interesting to note that for all demographic groups, most people in the shelters were residents of Madison or Dane County before becoming homeless. What it doesn’t seem to track is the number of people who are homeless but don’t use the shelter system. Tami Miller puts that number at 400. On Monday, I talked to a couple of guys who are regulars at our First Monday meal. They sleep outside. One of them said he’ll go in the shelter when it’s really cold, another said he never uses the shelter. When I asked them about it, they brought up the usual issues and complaints I hear. The reality is that the shelter isn’t appropriate for everyone, and with shelter as with almost every other issue facing homeless people, it’s important to develop solutions based on the particular needs of individuals. Of course that takes more financial and human resources, but if the goal is to get someone into a stable living situation, those resources are necessary and produce results.

A video about the plight of homeless teens in Madison is here:

In short, these are interesting and exciting times and I look forward to future developments.