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.

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.

The Winter Day Shelter is open!

As of 8:00 am today. It’s located on E. Washington and operated by Porchlight. It’s been a long struggle and kudos to all those who have kept pressure on the city and the county. Thanks too to the County Board of Supervisors who overwhelmingly voted in favor of its funding. Linda Ketcham of Madison Area Urban Ministry has been one of the leaders of the effort and deserves a shout out.

The work is not done. The shelter is looking for volunteers to help with staffing and they also need a lot of donated items.

Here’s the job description if you are interested in volunteering: volunteeringatthewinterdayshelter

And here’s the list of items they need: Warming day shelter wish list