Chippewa Valley Street Ministry Journal - April 26, 2021
We've been out on the street to establish our "new normal" and it's so good to get back to what we do best: to connect and support people with unconditional care. It has been a long year of us wanting to be available but needing to ensure safety of both those we serve and ourselves. We require masks and maintain distancing when possible. There are a few familiar faces but, by in large, most people are new to us. We've been bringing both vans and have provided clothing, blankets, shoes and boots, gloves, hand warmers and other items that have been so graciously donated. The people who are new to us seem genuinely grateful and surprised that we're able to provide the items they need.
We've polled our visitors to see where they go during the day since the shelter is not open during the day. One man said that he had been sitting in the stairwell connected to a restaurant and had been told to leave. A woman said she had found a cafe that was accepting of her spending the day and others say they just stay outside of the shelter because there is simply nowhere to go. Another man said that for now, he's going to different parks and able to go to a nearby convenience store for food and bathroom use. One man had a car and said he was leaving town to travel to a shelter in northwest Wisconsin that was providing 24-hour care; he had a mobility challenge and was unable to walk around the city during the day but could not afford to drive around all day, either. We offered a few essentials and wished him safe travels.
One woman discussed her frustration with not having an easily accessible bathroom once she leaves the shelter in the morning. The local park restrooms are now open however these are all many blocks away from the shelter. She says that she and other people will utilize the restroom at the transit station but it still requires some planning to avoid "emergencies.'
As we near our 9th anniversary of working out on the street, we continue to see the lack of social equity between community members. Many of our early-year conversations were simply about housing and thinking it was just a matter of time before someone would locate housing. After well over a thousand visits on the street and seeing the population increase, we're now talking about where the closest bathroom might be. I wonder what might have to occur to provide a catalyst for significant change? We've noted that there have been deaths. We've reported the increased significant mental illness that is out there being untreated. There are community members with no bed, no income, no independent food or water source, no bathrooms. Does none of this matter? How do we best confront a social and economic system that keeps our brothers and sisters locked in poverty?
Many individuals in the homeless community are experiencing sleep deprivation and have nowhere to go.
Here, a man has found a place to rest for a few moments.
What hasn't changed in the time we've been out is the reported feelings of loneliness and perceptions of being shunned and unwanted. We've heard for years that there are few places that are unwelcoming and when an adult is seen carrying a backpack, individuals feel they are untrusted, regardless of their character. It is simply unfair to judge someone based on their appearance.
What the people we serve need is hope. Hope is an invaluable tool for individuals and groups to have in order to keep going. Hope for housing. Hope for employment. Hope that basic needs will be met. Without hope, there's little willpower for anyone to make efforts for change. With each item we provide whether it be clothing, an extra bottle of water, a smile ... all of these give hope. Together, we make a difference. Thank you for your support, your donations and hope. Please keep our community, especially our brothers and sisters living in poverty, in your prayers.
Blessings to all,
Karen - Social Worker/Nurse
Chippewa Valley Street Ministry Journal - April 14, 2021
As the seasons change and the colors of spring become more evident, there are also changes occurring for the people we serve, as well. As you may know, the homeless shelter returned to its downtown site. With this change, concerns are again raised for resources ranging from mental health care to water/food to restrooms.
With the shift of the shelter back to the original downtown location, the guests being served are having to adjust to changes in service. When the shelter was located at Hobbs Ice Arena and then at the IGA location, the guests were allowed to stay in place during the day and night -- a 24/7 service. With the return to the downtown facility, the guests are no longer able to stay at the shelter during the day and must leave to find a place to be during the day. While this encourages individuals to not be dependent on the shelter, it forces them into the community where there are few restrooms and water sources. Finding and implementing a balance to provide care yet encourage independence is a challenge made more difficult by limited access to services due to Covid-19. Additionally, with the ability to stay in shelter over the last year, people who are now going into the community and having to learn to survive all over again. The daytime drop-in center that had been available is no longer an option and the library is closed. There are limited options of being indoors, an issue when the weather has been rainy and snowy. Generally speaking, there is no place for people to go and if there's a weather emergency, what are they to do? We wonder if, when the decisions made at local agencies, homeless individuals are included in the conversations? Are the voices of people being affected by decisions heard?
We spent time with Sojourner staff to discuss options for obtaining much needed mental health services for a few individuals as well as ways to mutually support people that both the street ministry and the shelter staff work with. All local programs have eligibility requirements or wait lists that make connecting to services difficult. Many providers are in a reactive mode and not a proactive mode, or, the practice is to "clean up a crash" rather than prevent it. There are people that are experiencing mental health symptoms that appear to put their safety at risk: they are vulnerable and enter into situations that put them in harm's way for physical and/or sexual abuse as well as emotional abuse. Referrals have been made to local agencies and law enforcement has been involved on occasion. The shelter director Kiana and her assistant, Kim, are amazing advocates for the guests at the shelter and continue to work towards connecting these individuals to services, the guests and community are fortunate to have them in their positions.
We learned a man that we had gotten to know over the years has passed away. He had obtained housing well over a year ago and we'll always remember his huge smile, sense of humor and his gratitude for the fishing gear we provided him. It's always hard to learn of these passings, often the people we work with become like family. We can only hope that he is at peace now.
Temporary shelter to assist with protection from the weather and assist with a place for meals.
Street Ministry staff are meeting this week to create a plan to safely be out with the guests staying at the shelter. We provided meals over the last year for people not staying at the shelter, we ended that service when the shelter returned to the downtown location. We're anxious to return to our roots but know that there will be a new normal where we don't share in the hugs, handshakes and close conversations that we used to. We will adjust and work to support our brothers and sisters in need and include them in determining how best to meet their needs.
Thank you for your support now and going forward. We anticipate that we'll need to adjust as we go along to ensure safety for the people we serve and for our staff safety. Stay tuned as we settle back into a routine and our new normal.
Blessings to all.
Street Ministry Staff
Chippewa Valley Street Ministry Journal - April 1, 2021
We had an encounter recently that has stayed on my mind. An individual talked to us about forgiveness -- or the lack of forgiveness. This is not the first time we've talked with him about this topic. The discussions have started with the person talking about their previous behaviors being unforgivable by others. During the conversations, we've picked up on the person feeling they are unworthy of forgiveness by others and themselves. This belief hinders the person from moving on from their current position. I think the majority of us have, at one time or another, experienced a sense of self-doubt or guilt and may have missed out on an opportunity because of those beliefs. Imagine feeling so poorly of yourself, so unforgivable, for so long that you don't feel worthy of housing, food, and other security needs. We talk to the person about their value as a person and encourage conversation to help process whatever they've internalized. Sometimes they talk, other times we simply hope that our message will be remembered. .
We met with a woman whose significant other was recently incarcerated and she was quite despondent. We provided a hot meal and listened to her concerns. She apologized for her tears and we agreed to check back with her when we came back out.
We drove to various locations and provided meals and other necessities to those in need. One man has now been working consistently for several weeks and has a lot of deserved pride in his achievement. A woman we've worked with for several months was nowhere to be found, this is not unusual but we were still concerned about her safety.
A sizable population is coming downtown from their former shelter two miles away as Sojourners returns to their downtown facility. We have many questions and concerns with this change:
In the morning when the guests are leaving the shelter, where can they go? There is no longer going to be a day shelter due to changes in Lutheran Social Services.
Are there going to be access to bathrooms?
Water fountains have been turned off since last year, will there be water available?
The Direct convenience store, the only convenience store that was downtown has recently gone out of business. What are the distances people are going to have to travel to find bathrooms, water, purchase food, etc., especially the elderly and physically handicapped?
The number of people allowed to stay at the downtown shelter is less than have been staying at the shelter on Clairemont Avenue. Where will the people not getting to stay the night at the shelter go?
We are seeking out answers and working with community partners to help keep everyone safe. Please keep our brothers and sisters in your thoughts and prayers. Stay healthy!
Karen - Social Worker/Nurse