Plymouth Street Ministry Journal - April 13 thru May 5
We apologize for the sporadic journals as of late. Due to some unforeseen personal circumstances, we took a publishing break but we are back in action and ready to share our news.
Rather than try to catch up on all of the news from the last week or two out on the street, we want to focus on just a couple of women we're working with. This is not intended to minimize the other people we're working with but these women stand out as being in greater need than the others.
The first woman we originally met last summer and had serious concerns for her mental health and safety. She obtained housing for several months and has now returned to the street and is just as vulnerable as ever. She is someone who seems to be slipping through the cracks of society and we're trying to figure out the best method to be of help to her.
This young woman appears to have significant mental illness. Her communication, while verbal, is unreliable in terms of her orientation to reality. It is difficult to track her thoughts, her needs or who she really is because she will start talking, hesitate for several seconds and when she begins talking she may have changed topics or becomes delusional. Over the course of the time we've known her, volunteers have taken her to a local ER for evaluation and treatment. In fact, just recently, Pastor Mike brought her to the ER and after several hours she left on her own will without receiving treatment. The nurses at the ER did a great job working with her and had concerns for her. Because she is legally an adult and as far as we know not under anyone's guardianship, no one is able to require her to stay and get the help she needs. Since her trip to the hospital, we have not had contact with her. All we can do is look and talk to people who may know her and encourage them to bring her back to us.
The woman is extremely vulnerable. One of our greatest concerns is that of her safety not only because of her mental illness but because of her history with sex trafficking. We don't feel she is intentionally making poor or unsafe choice but doing so simply because she isn't aware of the consequences. She currently thinks she may be pregnant. She wanders around town and is often hard to locate in order to bring her to a provider for a pregnancy test.
When she arrives to see us, she frequently has a male with her. We always separate her from her companion in hopes of providing her time to say what she can and if necessary, remove her from their control and into a safer environment. We know some of the people that are trafficking her and have warned them to stay away from her but we are not able to be with her 24/7.
The other woman I'm writing about is the young mother of three toddlers that is frequently mentioned in the journals. She seems to be on the right track of becoming more positive and responsible for herself and her children, it makes us very happy to see her comi n g out of her struggles. She is in a relationship that appears to be supportive in nature rather than the abusive relationships of the past. She went through treatment a couple of months ago and has gained a great deal from that experience. She is working on a regular basis and overall, her appearance is that of pride and satisfaction.
We're attaching the writings of two of our volunteers that demonstrates our concern for the women noted above.
From Sam, one of our social work students:
Tuesday - April 19, 2016
Tonight on the street we were visited by a young woman that we haven't seen for awhile. She appeared to be severely mentally ill, not being able to look at any of our volunteers in the face. She was very timid and didn't answer many of our questions at first. We later learned that she had just been kicked out of her apartment and did not have any clothes with her except for the ones that she was wearing. We gave her several articles of clothing, new shoes, and a hygiene kit. After talking to her, we later learned that she believes that she is pregnant but does not know how far along and believes that the baby is her "husbands". We asked her if she felt safe with the guy that she was with for the night, and she said "most of the time". She then told us that she doesn't feel safe when he brings guys over for her. She appears to be taken advantage of on the street and is being trafficked. She stated that she has had anywhere from 9 to 12 guys in her apartment and we are very concerned for her safety and well-being. She was told to try to come back on Friday and visit with one of our volunteers to check-in and see what else we can do for her. At this point our main priority is to just keep her safe as she appears to very vulnerable.
From Barb, our children's ministry volunteer:
Tuesday, April 19, 2016
Pastor Mike, Mariah, Samantha, Brent, Jake, Brian and I were out on the street tonight. Thankfully, the rain had let up. We talked with the young mom with 3 small children. She told us that she is trying to take one day at a time and if things start to overwhelm her, she tries to stay active and to keep her mind focused on what is best for her.
Another young women who came to us started out by saying her day had not gone well. She had been kicked out of her apartment. She has mental health issues and is a victim of trafficking. She said she was pregnant. We are very concerned for her safety. We tried to convince her to go to a place where we knew she would be off the street and safe. We would take her there, but she did not want to go. It is heartbreaking to hear stories such as this. Women on the street are so susceptible to being abused.
Please pray for and support this ministry.
Two of our social work students, Mariah and Sam who have been with us for over a year now, have developed their "people skills" and are doing well approaching and helping our street friends, especially the women that we encounter. Volunteering on the street is a great way to learn about people and their needs as well as how some people struggle with mental and physical afflictions as well as struggle with navigating the social service or the justice system. We are grateful for their willingness to be out with us.
Recently we received a call for assistance from someone in a nearby community who shared concerns of a young woman that they have been working with that has been and perhaps is still being trafficked. We hope to obtain more information about the individual and provide support and any services necessary.
We are reaching out to other agencies in Iowa and Minnesota that work directly with trafficking survivors and for several years have had a separate ministry for this population under our ministry for the homeless. The ministry is now called "Women Out of The Night". Plymouth Street Ministry / Women Out of The Night is the only organization in the region that provides direct care to victims who have been trafficked and are currently being trafficked. We are also working with women who are actively engaged in the sex trade in various locations throughout the Chippewa Valley. We are proud to work with these women and see their growth.
In addition to the Street Ministry and Women Out In The Night Ministry, we're also keeping up with the families we work with from Bolton Refuge House and Beacon House as well as working with individuals who are incarcerated in Eau Claire and the Wisconsin state prison system.
Please continue to support Plymouth Street Ministry and those we work with through prayer, sharing our stories and with donations. Without your support, we could not do what we do. Thank you so very much!
Karen - Street Nurse
Plymouth Street Ministry Journal April 12, 2016
Plymouth Street Ministry volunteers were out in full force this evening, we needed every person on hand as it was busy. Joining in our mission of caring for others were Brent, Jake, Mariah, Sam, Ashleigh, Barb, Becky, Michelle, Brian, and Pastor Mike.
There were several conversations going on simultaneously and I was unable to keep up with all of the stories. One woman I spoke with had been seeking assistance last summer at that time she had been pregnant and without shelter. She, her husband and brother in law had been staying in their vehicle and unsure of where they would end up. When I spoke with the woman tonight, she had delivered a baby girl about two months ago and reported that they had an apartment locally. She looked and sounded good, quite a transformation from a few months ago.
The young woman with the three children that we frequently write about arrived without the kids with her. I was hoping to spend some time with her but it didn't work out. I pray for her and the kids' safety every day.
Another young woman is struggling to feel safe wherever she is able to find shelter. She will occasionally stay at the shelter but also "couch surfs" whenever she can. Couch surfing is when a person, usually without permanent housing, goes from house to house for short periods of time. She looks exhausted she is scared of someone who is living in the house she stays at, she probably doesn't sleep well.
I spent the majority of my time talking with a middle aged woman who had traveled for four days on a bus from the southwestern United States. She explained that she left her home after being sexually assaulted, she left everything to get away from her abuser. She arrived with nothing but the clothes on her back and feels that this is a "good place". She has been in Eau Claire for three days, we gave information on important sites such as Community Table, the library and the hospital and the closest ER. She talked about being befriended by a man that none of us seemed to know and we talked firmly with her about being safe. We've mentioned before that women have a high incidence of being assaulted while being out on the street and its always a concern.
I spoke with the family that we -- with your assistance -- housed prior to their transition to the Beacon House. They had thought they would be moving to their transitional housing on the 15th but it was delayed until 4/22/16. They are anxious to get into a bigger living environment but are being patient. We have assured them that we will continue to be a means of support for them after they leave the shelter.
Plymouth Street Ministry Journal--Friday, April 8, 2016
We had a good crew of workers: Becky, Brent, Brian, Larry, and Mike were there when I arrived at twenty to six, and Michelle arrived shortly after. The temperature was in the 30s but the wind, which was snapping flags and rattling metal signs, made it feel much colder. We had many visitors but few stayed long. It was simply not pleasant to stand in the wind, and the vans did little to block it. We served about 30 people, distributing bags with dry food, candy, juice, water, and a piece of fresh fruit. We also gave out socks and other clothing, and made a list of items or sizes we didn't have with us. We will try to bring those items on Tuesday.
I don't have many stories to tell, mostly because the visits were so short. I met a new visitor who has arrived from Mississippi. Brent brought a bag to him and we helped him with some warmer clothing. Another man, who appears to have some mental health problems, was back in town. We knew him from about two years ago--he told us that he had been in the Milwaukee area for a while. A third man was pleased to tell use about the new job at a horseradish farm. A fourth complained about the weather hurting his work--he works for a landscaping company and most of their work is on hold until it warms up. Each then hurried away to get out of the cold wind.
The shelter opened up around 7pm, and we left a few minutes after.
Please pray for, and care for, the poor.
Plymouth Street Ministry, Tuesday, April 5, 2016
It was a cold and wet night out on the street Tuesday, April 5th, with temps in the mid 30’s and light rain the entire time. Our friends on the street don’t get time off when the weather is bad, so we like to make sure we are out with them even on these more difficult days. There were four of us out tonight: Barb, Kim, Pastor Mike, and myself. We served roughly 30 people tonight.
Being a guy, I don’t work with the females that visit us too much – the female volunteers usually do that, but I did notice that one of the women that we have been helping regularly showed up on crutches, apparently due to a broken foot. I didn’t hear the whole story, but I do know that she has 3 small children, so please keep them in your prayers.
One of our friends that I hadn’t seen in a while was there – he tends to stay with friends instead of the shelter. It’s looking like he will be getting more permanent living arrangements soon which will enable him to regain partial custody of his son that was born last year. This seemed to be lifting his spirits somewhat.
We again gave out a few hoodies tonight, these seem to be one of the most requested things. Dry socks are also often requested on rainy nights like this.
It seems like, to me anyways, that there has been a rise in new people staying at the shelter in the past few weeks. Many with very noticeable mental health issues. Please keep these people in your prayers, so that they might get the help they need to help them get off the street. And a big THANK YOU again to all that donate to the Ministry! Every time I’m out on the street I see a difference being made in people’s lives.
Plymouth Street Ministry, Tuesday, April 5, 2016
Tonight was cold and rainy. On nights like this, most of the people we see stay inside wherever they can until they are allowed into the shelter at 7:00 p.m. Pastor Mike, Brent, Kim and I were there to listen and talk with those that stopped by to see us. Kim and I were kept busy talking with four women, three of which we have seen on a regular basis. One very young woman was new on the street and was not dressed for the weather, we did give her some gloves. She told us she does have a job. We are concerned for her safety.
The young mother with three small children that we have talked with and helped quite frequently was on crutches. She said she had a fracture that happened at work. In spite of this, she said that she would be able to be back to work the next day and seems to like her new job. Her children are staying with their grandma. She was staying with a girlfriend tonight and was not able to be with her kids because the dad was with them.
Another woman we talked with has found a place to live with a friend and the friend’s boyfriend. She hopes to go to school in August at the technical college for small engine repair. She told us it has been 3 years on the street and during that time has been doctoring and dealing with health issues.
The fourth woman that came to us was staying with a good friend and her husband. It did not sound like a stable situation. She would like to go back to the University and continue her classes, but has some financial issues to face first. She did say that she would be starting work in a couple of days.
It is very difficult to imagine the challenges these people are going through. Please pray and support this ministry.
Plymouth Street Ministry Journal--Friday, March 18, 2016
The temperature was in the mid-to-upper 30s when I drove into the municipal parking lot at 5:40pm. Becky, Brent, Karen, Larry, and Mike were already there with two vans loaded with supplies. Also present were four youth and their leader from First Congregational Church--they had assembled the food bags we distributed tonight. Later in the evening Michelle and Rex also came and helped out. I arrived after our first couple of visitors had already been helped, but soon a young woman, her three children, and her friend arrived. The older children (two and three years old) had lots of energy. All three children looked under-dressed for the winter. The youth from First Congregational did a great job keeping the two older children busy while we found hats and gloves for the young children and also for the baby. Karen and Becky talked with the two women to find out their needs. (Karen has been working with and looking after the woman and her children for quite a while.) We didn't have all of the necessary clothing on hand, so Karen arranged to get the children's sizes so we can bring them clothing on Tuesday. They stayed for more than fifteen minutes, and then Becky drove them to the bus station. (I'm not sure, but I think they are all staying with a friend and were taking the evening bus to the friend's place.)
Things were then very calm for many minutes. We had the occasional visitor that we provided with food and water. A young man and young woman came by who asked for gloves and shoes. We gave them gloves and wrote down sizes for shoes, which we hope we will have by Tuesday. Another man asked for socks, which we provided. One of our old regulars stopped by. He has housing now and was in good spirits, despite having a kidney stone operation coming up soon. One of us mentioned that we were glad he found housing, and that he deserved to be off the street. He motioned to the group of homeless folks gathered in front of the shelter across the street and said, "So do all of them." We agreed.
As 7pm--the opening time of the shelter--grew near, the rate of visitors grew and we were quite busy. A woman arrived and seemed to be unable to hold still. She moved her head in a diagonal manner, almost a twitch. We have known her for many months and know that she has had many drug problems, especially with meth. Mike asked if she was on it now. She said no, but I suspect otherwise--she appeared to me to be under the influence of something. Mike talked with her for a while and told her to call him when she needed help. She used to call Mike often, especially when she was trying to break her addiction, but hasn't recently. While Mike talked with that woman, Karen was talking with another woman, who was complaining that her phone had been stolen recently. She also told of having been trafficked recently. I wasn't privy to the rest of the conversation but I hope that she can stay safe and keep away from predators, and I'm confident that Karen was trying to get her the resources she will need to be safe.
I didn't keep a count, but I'm guessing we helped 25 people tonight. It was almost a quarter after seven when we finally packed up and left.
Please pray for, and care for, the poor.
Plymouth Street Ministry Journal 3-18-2016 cont.
As George noted in his journal, we were fortunate to have visitors from First Congregational UCC with us this evening. I hope they enjoyed their experience in service with us and learned about our street congregation and the challenges they face. Pastor Mike and I have visited with the youth group at First Congregational weekly for three weeks and have enjoyed getting to know them. This group, as well as other youth groups we've spoken with, is insightful and aware of many of the injustices in the world. We have challenged them to come up with ways to help with issues of social justice in their schools and the community we share as well as in broader populations.
Shortly before we left for the evening, a young woman we've gotten to know arrived. I believe this woman is about 22 years of age, she graduated from a local high school and has been employed. There are some dynamics in her family that resulted in her being kicked out of the home and while she had occasionally used the home as a refuge when times were bad, that is no longer an option. She is staying with someone temporarily but is uncertain how long that will continue. We made small talk near the group but when I noticed the tears in her eyes and she whispered she wanted to share something, I separated her from the others to provide her the privacy and time she needed to share her story. She reported that she had been in a situation that she felt she could not get out of and she had sex with someone who demanded it in exchange for their help. She was not only embarrassed but also blamed herself for the incident, although she had told the person 'no' to the exchange. I tried to reassure her that no one deserves to be treated in that manner and that while she may have put herself in the environment, she'd done nothing to warrant that behavior from the other person.
I have no answers or solutions for this woman. I think its important to share her story to bring awareness and challenges that some of those we serve, especially women, face when they cannot meet their own needs. This is not the first time we've heard a story such as this and undoubtedly, it will not be the last. We will work with her to provide resources and support as she needs and I will update you as I can. The first assignment I gave her was to get in touch with social services in order to get her Badger-care back on track and then see her primary physician. She is agreeable to the plan and I'll be following up with her.
Another young woman and her boyfriend arrived close to the end of our visit, I've written about her and her baby who had been hospitalized as a result of her drug addictions. The woman looked happy and healthier than I've seen her in the past. In fact, I barely recognized her and was thrilled to see her in a different light. She reported that the infant had been discharged from the hospital and that if an appointment with social services went well, she would be able to see the baby. We learned that the child is blind and suspect he may have additional challenges as he grows. She was just as excited for her boyfriend to see the baby, my understanding was that he had not gotten to see the baby prior to the hospitalization. The hope they had this evening was giving them so much energy to go on.
In closing and with a happy note, we had a young woman with her three children come and visit us today, I've written about this family multiple times. I am so pleased with the continued sobriety that the mom has, over the last few weeks I've truly been amazed how well she looks and sounds. She is in a program that will help her find employment and provides childcare so that her children are getting some consistency and structure that they may have been needing. The children also look good, their smiles and laughter were good to see and hear and they thoroughly enjoyed the youth that were volunteering with us. I've been keeping an eye on this family since July 2015 and have had concerns several times about their safety and well-being. I pray that they will only get stronger and more stable.
Please keep these women, the children and all of those we work with in your thoughts and prayers.
Karen - Street Nurse
Plymouth Street Journal - Saturday, March 12, 2016
Several of the Plymouth Street Ministry volunteers spent the day on the UWEC campus to participate in theNorthwest Evangelical Lutheran Church of America conference, Walking Together. We were the fortunate recipient of many hygiene kits that the conference participants put together -- over 400 kits! The supplies for the kits were provided for by Thrivent Financial for Lutherans. We were honored to be recognized as an organization worthy of support.
There were about forty workshops throughout the day that various people or churches provided. One workshop was entitled "Women United Against Human Trafficking", the presenters were Rev. Diane House -- pastor of Holy Cross Lutheran Church in Elmwood, WI; Amy Hartman -- director of Cherish All Children, MN; and Rev. Cindy Crane -- director of the Lutheran Office for Public Policy of Wisconsin. The women spoke of the injustice in our country and state regarding human trafficking. Plymouth Street Ministry brought a young woman that we've come to know with a difficult history, which included being trafficked, to share her story. While she was extremely nervous initially, she was amazing and we were all very proud of her. Perhaps the experience was a step in her healing process, we were thrilled to see the beautiful smile on her face!
After lunch we proceeded to the room that we were scheduled to speak in. Pastor Mike spoke of how and why the ministry began, Dr. Ken Adler of the Chippewa Valley Free Clinic spoke of the development of the Free Clinic as well as progress being made in the need for cooperative landlords for housing. There is often funding available and housing available, but there seems to be a shortage of landlords willing to rent to people who may have previous evictions in their history or criminal backgrounds. Suzanne Becker of Feed My People spoke about the food program that we participate in. Suzanne also shared the history of Feed My People: it started as a group effort of five churches to alleviate hunger in the community. They have grown to serve much of northwest Wisconsin from small organizations to corporations. Also speaking were our volunteers: Brent spoke about the benefits of having people on the street who can talk about addictions or disabilities, Barb shared information about the availability of children's clothing and diapers at the clothing closet at Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd, Michelle spoke about the importance of the sense of friendship and family we provide, and I spoke about the need to treat those we serve with unconditional dignity and respect. Again, we were honored to be a part of the conference. We believe in what we do and want to share that with others.
After the conference we had the task of transporting the 400 + hygiene kits, a task that we are so very grateful for. We put in some long hours preparing for the day but in the end, it was all worth it.
Plymouth Street Nurse
Plymouth Street Ministry Journal for March 11, 2016
We were blessed with a multitude of volunteers this evening: Brent, Jake, Kim, Ashleigh, Becky, Pastor Mike, Larry, and Mariah. We also had a middle school student and his mother from First Congregational UCC, where we've been talking to the youth group to educate them on what we do.
The woman that I've written about several times over the last 7 months who has an infant and two toddlers stopped by, she looked better than she has in several months. I was so pleased with her appearance and her behavior, she's been to treatment and has remained sober. Our conversation was different than its been in the past, she was realistic about hopes and goals and seemed less angry. I pray that she can stay on the path of sobriety.
A group of three women came by early in the evening. One woman was a regular last summer. She reported that she had obtained employment and housing but due to untreated ADHD and other mental illness, she had lost her job which resulted in a loss of housing so she's having to start over. I strongly encouraged her to renew her medical assistance so that she could obtain healthcare and medication, she is receptive of the suggestion but there is a sense of hopelessness about her. Her friend that was with her reported that her child was in a foster home voluntarily, however her story left me with more questions than answers. She has been coming regularly, I'm certain we'll learn more in the coming weeks. The third woman appeared to be pregnant but she did not take part in any conversation with us.
Our evening was relatively quiet, we served approximately 25 people. One woman shared that her daughter was getting married the next day and she was the way to the rehearsal dinner. Sometimes I forget that the people we serve have more than just survival on their minds and that they try to live as "normal" as a life as possible. I hope she enjoyed the festivities and for a short time forgot about her reality.
Please continue to pray for those we serve as well as for continued support for the ministry. We appreciate all of you!
Plymouth Street Nurse
Plymouth Street Ministry -- 03/04/2016
Out on the street tonight were Larry, Becky, Ashleigh, Kim, Barb, and Pastor Mike. It snowed during the day and by the time we were out for our service, the parking lot we're at was a sloppy mess. I, for one, am happy its warm enough to be sloppy rather than slippery!
We served about 26 people, some of whom we've known for a very long time, the others for just a few visits. Its good to catch up with each person and hear the news of their lives and their hopes and dreams. Often, we're the only contacts that the people have that will listen without judgment. One of the most important services we provide is that we treat those we serve with respect and dignity, whether they live on the street or are in jail, have been victims of trafficking or are living very challenged lives. When someone feels respect, they're more likely to share their stories and sometimes, their stories are all they have.
One young man we spoke with was very downtrodden. We'd seen him with a young woman in the mddle of February and she had told us very excitedly that they were going to get married in March. She apparently had a change of heart and broke off the relationship. This young man was very sad, he came to us not wanting anything other than to talk. The drizzle and cooler temperature made the situation seem even more depressing.
The young and petite woman I wrote about approximately a week ago returned, we gave her some clothing that she'd requested. Her mood was very upbeat, she reported that her child had been discharged from the hospital. She has some addictions she'll have to conquer to reunite with him. She may be small in stature but she's a strong woman and will survive this chapter in her life.
The family that we cooperatively housed is still at Beacon House and doing well. They had a tire issue on their vehicle that we (including you!) took care of. They came to visit one night, the kids look great! I sincerely hope that they get permanent housing soon and these two little ones have memories of all of the good people that were in their lives rather than situation itself. I believe that the parents are still in awe that total strangers came to their aid and they continue to be very grateful.
If you are interested in volunteering or have any question about the Street Ministry, please let us know!
Thank you for your continued interest and support in the ministry, please continue to pray for those we serve and all others in need.
Plymouth Street Ministry Journal--Friday, Feb. 26, 2016
We had nine volunteers out in the parking lot tonight--Ashleigh, Brent, Jacob, Karen, Kim, Larry, Michelle, Mike, and I--and we were all busy. When I arrived at 5:45 there were already a few visitors at the vans, and soon there were many. It is almost March and we are still distributing lots of winter clothing. Tonight it was gloves, jackets, hooded sweatshirts, long underwear, and socks. While some of us were talking to visitors others were handing out bags of food or hunting for the needed sizes of clothing.
Mike is highly regarded on the street. One woman, a regular visitor, brought another homeless woman up to the van and introduced her to Mike, "This is Pastor Mike--he can help you." A few minutes later the scene repeated as yet another homeless person brought another newcomer and said that this is where you go to to get help. We served around forty people tonight, and that number included quite a few I had never seen before. While it is good that word about Plymouth Street Ministry is getting around, I think all of us long for the day when we are put out of business because there are no more homeless people.
It's always nice to have some good news, and one homeless man brought it. He had signed a lease on an apartment and moves in a few days. He was counting down his last few days in the shelter and talking dreamily about having his own bed.
I met a man from Mississippi. He had a long story and I only caught part of it. His wife has been up here for awhile--she has family in the area--and he came up to help her. He has a number of health problems, however, and the two of them found themselves on the street and in the shelter. He mentioned how the temperature seemed so cold to him (it was in the low 30s tonight), yet everyone else was telling him how warm it was. We outfitted him with some warmer clothing and some hand warmers and he was very grateful.
Our women volunteers were kept especially busy. Homeless women are much more likely to open up to other women--which isn't at all surprising, especially considering all of the sexual abuse that happens on the street--so we try to have the women volunteers talk with the women visitors, and tonight we had many homeless women visitors. Two of them were very young. One of them was distraught--she had a baby in the hospital and, additionally, was carrying the weight of many other problems. Several of the women talked with her for a long time. Mike didn't want her going across the street with those waiting for the shelter to open until the last minute, so Kim sat and talked with her in the front seat of one of the vans for many minutes. When the woman left she was crying as she hugged Kim and several of the other women volunteers. I think all of us were close to tears, and I had only heard a small bit of her story.
A few minutes after seven the shelter doors opened and our crowd disappeared. We left around five after seven.
Please pray for, and care for, the poor.
Plymouth Street Ministry Journal--Friday, Feb. 26, 2016
It isn't often that both George and I write journal notes for the same evening. If you read George's journal you have already learned that it was a very busy evening. In the time that I've been going out on the street, I have never experienced so many women coming to us in one evening. We shared laughter, tears, hugs and conversation with these ladies and have concerns about all of them in one regard or another. A woman we've gotten to know over the last few months has gotten housing through an agency program, we are so very happy for her! We've watched her transition from initially a relatively upbeat attitude to one of depression. Her daughter passed away due to a domestic abuse incident in December and since then, she has been quite despondent. She was finding less and less support from people she thought she could trust and was trying to stay to herself. Somehow she found the energy to contact an agency and has been accepted into a program that will get her off of the street, she's already found an apartment and will be moving in on March 1st. It was a delight to see new energy in her and the sparkle return to her eyes. She has some physical challenges and uses a walker, it will be good for her to have more saftey and stability.
We met a young woman that knew Pastor Mike from previous years but had been away from Eau Claire for some time. My first thought was that she was just a child, she is tiny in stature and she cannot weigh more than a hundred pounds. She had a sweatshirt and a vest on, no coat that I could see, and jeans. After speaking with her, it quickly became clear that she was an adult. She shared that she was struggling with some addictions and that her baby is hospitalized with a poor prognosis. This young woman connected with one of our new UWEC volunteers, Kim, and they spoke privately for quite some time. When the shelter was about to open and it was time for the young woman to leave us, hugs and tears were shared, it was a very touching moment. We are deeply concerned for this woman and hope she will keep in touch with us. We jotted down some of her needs to take care of and bring to her the next time we're out. One thing she requested that we do not have in our storeroom is size 0 jeans.
Yet another woman arrived in need of clothing and other requests. Some items we had with us, others will be delivered on our next outing. This woman has seven children, one as young as six months of age and others as teenagers. We were so busy trying to accommodate her needs that we didn't get her complete story. When she returns we'll talk again and find out more about her and her situation. Typically, we take care of basic needs and try to get information as we go. Often, it takes time to build the trust and rapport for people to want to share their stories. This woman seemed willing to talk, we just didn't ask the questions yet and as busy as it was with both men and women, there wasn't a great deal of privacy.
There were others, as well: the woman we've watched over for many months with significant health and mobility issues, a young woman with a toddler who isn't in need of shelter but in great need of guidance, and another woman that came to Eau Claire last summer and seems to get herself involved in scams and unhealthy relationships. I believe she has such great desire to feel loved and needed that she makes decisions that are not always healthy or safe. We are not there to fix their problems but be a source of support and walk beside them through this journey.
We had many volunteers this evening, nine in all. We absolutely needed every person and while we worked efficiently, there were times it seemed we needed more help. Our two new UWEC social work students, Kim and Ashleigh, worked hard this evening and I am very proud of their efforts and willingness to help and learn. The Street Ministry provides a unique learning environment that is not available anywhere else in Eau Claire. Kim and Ashleigh, as well as our other students, Mariah, Sam, and Jake, have been gifts to the ministry and we are grateful for joining our other dedicated volunteers.
If you are interested in volunteering with us, please contact Pastor Mike. We try to share details of our evenings in our journals but there's no way to accurately convey the emotions, the sights and smells or the joys we experience. Sometimes, its just best to be there.
Thank you for your interest and support in the Street Ministry! Please pray for those we serve as well as all of those giving their time, talents, and gifts -- including you!
Tonight was cold. Very cold. We had plenty of help: Ashleigh, Jacob, Karen, Kim, Larry, Mike, and I were all there with two vans. Did I mention it was cold? According to my weather app, it was 7 degrees when I arrived at 5:50 and 1 degree above zero with a "Feels Like" rating of 11 below when I left at a couple of minutes after 7. Despite being very warmly dressed--including wool socks, thermal socks, insulated boots, and snow pants, my feet were quite cold after an hour and ten minutes outside. We had fewer visitors than usual--we helped around 20 tonight--but more than I expected considering the temperature. Winter accessories were back in demand; we provided many warm hats and gloves. Of course, we also distributed the usual bags of food, hand warmers, water, and juice. Nobody stuck around to talk with us very long. The shelter let people in at 6:20, which 40 minutes before the usual opening time. (Thank you, Sojourner House!) We stayed until 7 just in case we had more visitors. I'm afraid I don't have much to report, other than "brrrrr." Please remember that we are out on the street in the cold by choice, and for only a short time, but the homeless don't have that luxury, and are out in the cold for much longer.
Please pray for, and care for, the poor.
Due to the inclement weather on Tuesday 02/02/2016, we did not spend time on the street this week until Friday. While we are dedicated to those we serve, our own safety is important and the decision was made to not have anyone travel that day. Volunteering on Friday, a much calmer day in terms of weather, were Larry, Brent, Jake, Barb, Becky, Michelle, Mariah and a new volunteer: Kim, a UWEC social work student.
We had about eighteen visitors, a slower evening than what we've become accustomed to. It is normal at the beginnings of the month to have fewer people so this is not concerning. As the month moves along our numbers will likely increase and we'll be prepared.
Most people came for a bag of food and a bottle of water and juice. Others came to share their stories, one woman who had been in a relationship with a man we know came and talked about their breakup. She was very tearful and was grateful fo the chance to talk with Barb and Becky. It didn't seem that many people stayed long. I don't recall the temperature but we all noticed the bite of the cold air, that could have been deterrent for our usual visitors.
We continue to be concerned about a young woman we've gotten to know who has young children. News from mutual acquaintances is not encouraging, we pray for her safety and that of her children. We remind her and her friends that we are available to her any time and any day.
With the few visitors we had, there is not much in news to share and maybe that's a good thing. For the most part, it was a peaceful outing.
Thank you to all of you for your interest in Plymouth Street Ministry. We couldn't do what we do without you! Take a look at the needs list, and on behalf of those we serve, thank you so very much!
Please continue to prayer for those we serve as well as those who do serve.
Plymouth Street Nurse
I arrived at the municipal parking lot at 5:45 to find Barb, Brent, Dani, Karen, and Mike there with both vans. They were talking with YG. I hadn't seen YG for quite a while. He is one of our success stories. He had been living in his car and staying at the shelter, but Plymouth Street Ministry helped him find a program that gave him housing, and he has stayed off the street for some months. He is doing well, still has his place, and stopped by to say hi.
It was cold tonight--in the upper twenties--but not bitterly so. It was warm enough that people were willing to stay and talk for a little. BK came by and talked with Barb for a very long time. She thinks she will have an apartment soon. We hope it all works out and that there are no snags. We had many visitors in need of one or more items of winter clothing. Two different men needed socks. A man needed gloves. A woman needed long underwear and a hat. Another man asked for a sleeping bag. Yet another requested a warm sweatshirt. Still a different man asked for a coat. We met all of these needs except the sleeping bag, and we will try to have one with us on Tuesday for the man that asked for it.
Since I mentioned asking: Ask, and you shall receive! We have been low on our supply of water bottles and put out a request for more. Tonight, Sheila stopped by with four cases in the trunk of her car! Thank you, Sheila! A little later Jens, who has been away from Eau Claire for college but still maintains our web presence and Facebook page, also came by. He is back for the weekend and brought six additional cases of water! Thanks, Jens! All that water will go to good use.
Just before we left I heard a disturbing story. A woman we have helped in the past has slipped back into her meth addiction in a big way. She has led an awful life and was sexually trafficked since she was very young. She didn't stop by, but one of her friends did and gave us the news. We are worried about the welfare of her three young children, and are trying to learn more and to get the appropriate help to her and to her children.
We left around 7, which is opening time for the homeless shelter across the street from the parking lot where we work. I didn't take a careful count, but I'm guessing we served around 30 people tonight.
One final note: During the Christmas season many people are reminded to think of the poor and homeless. We are now near the end of January, the poor are forgotten by many. Winter is nowhere near over, and there are still many needs. As always, and especially at this time of the year, please pray for, and care for, the poor.
Even though tonight was a little warmer out, roughly 22 degrees, the light wind made it feel like a regular cold January night. Mike, Larry, Jake, Michele, and myself were downtown this evening. We were taking a little extra care tonight making sure everyone that visited had enough warm clothing because the forecast for the next few days is sounding particularly harsh, with high temps around zero and wind chills at -30 by Sunday. We didn’t have to tell anyone this though, the homeless are very good about knowing when the temperature is going to drop so that they don’t get surprised by weather changes. As evidence of this we had many requests for gloves and thick socks, luckily we had enough for all those that needed them.
When we pulled into the parking lot at 5:30 we noticed a couple men over at the shelter already, and one of them was sitting on a bench hunched over from the cold. The other man came over for a bag of food and said that the man on the bench was 82 years old and was new. I went over to see him and all he wanted was a warmer jacket and some thick socks, which we were able to give him. We will see what more help we can find for him, but until that time please keep him in your prayers.
By 7:00 we had served roughly 25-30 people. Most of the rest were dealing OK with the cold, although not many liked it.
Please keep all our homeless friends in your prayers during very cold spells like this. They are allowed to stay at the shelter from 7pm to 7am, that still leaves 12 hours that they need to find warmth. And thank you for all the donations – whether it’s warm clothes or money for us to buy warm clothes – our friends on the street are very appreciative on days like this. Every night that I’m out there I hear many “Thank-You’s” and I wanted to make sure those Thanks get passed along to those that help the Ministry out in other ways also. So “Thank you!”
It was above zero, but only by one degree, when I headed for the parking lot where Plymouth Street Ministry parks its vans and where we conduct much of our ministry. A weather web site said the wind chill was -17 degrees, but I think the wind had calmed down a bit and the wind chill wasn't quite so bad. Nevertheless, it was still bitterly cold. I was the last volunteer to arrive--at about a minute before six. Barb, Becky, Jacob, Karen, Mariah, Mike, and Sam were already there helping two or three people.
For quite a while we had few visitors. When the temperatures are low most of those we serve are street savvy enough to find warm buildings to stay in until just before 7pm, the time the overnight shelter across the street from us opens. At 6:20 the number of visitors to our vans picked up. To all that wanted them we gave bags containing food, water, juice, and hand warmers. A few we outfitted with gloves or warm socks, but most already had as much winter clothing as they could carry with them. I saw a few familiar faces: a tall, very thin man suffering from AIDS; a woman who had been trafficked for all of her teen years; a short man who takes a bag from us and retreats quickly, never saying a word; several who struggle with alcohol addiction. Across the street a man waiting for the shelter was making strange noises that sounded in part like a crying baby and in part like an unhappy cat. We have seen him before and believe he suffers from significant mental illness, but he avoids us and there is little we can do to help him. As I read over what I have written, I worry that I leave the impression that all our visitors were strange and hopeless, which is not true. Many of tonight's visitors were simply poor folks who were grateful to get a bag of food and an article or two of warm clothing, and more than one had cheerful words of encouragement for us.
By 6:30 the cold was getting to several of the volunteers. (I still felt warm; I was the last to arrive and was dressed in many layers of winter clothing. I probably looked like the Michelin Man.) The small crowd of homeless waiting for shelter to open also looked to be shivering. One of us muttered a wish that they would open the shelter early so that the homeless could at least wait in warmth. Then, immediately after that comment (Really! I'm not exaggerating!), the shelter doors opened a half-hour early and we watched those waiting enter.
We started to pack up at 7pm when a young woman ran up to us and yelled "wait!" She looked to me to be in her mid teens, but, when Mike talked to her, she said she was 25. I still find that hard to believe. She was dressed in a large hooded sweatshirt. We tried to talk her into taking a warm coat, but she refused. She did gratefully accept a pair of gloves and a bag of food, however. Another man showed up as well and we gave him a bag of food and some extra hand warmers. When we left at ten after seven I was still warm, except for my feet, which, despite insulated boots and two pairs of thick socks--one wool and one thermal--felt like blocks of ice. In total we served about two dozen people.
My feet got cold tonight, and it was a bit unpleasant. For me, working with the street ministry is a chance to be helpful, and sometimes it feels a bit like an adventure. I know, however, that I can leave at anytime. I know that a few hours later I will be sitting at my computer in my study, warm and secure, typing up my journal of the evening's events. I will sleep tonight in my own bed under my own warm comforter. Others will not. They will have no security, only temporary warmth, and a bunk that is not their own in a room they will share with many others. This is the fourth winter I've been helping out with the street ministry, but the first really cold evening each year makes me introspective. It reminds me how unfair life can be and how much I have been given.
Please pray for, and care for, the poor.
Out on the street this brisk evening were Barb, Sam, Mariah, Becky and Pastor Mike. We served approximately 25 people, a rather quiet evening. Often, there is no indication of whether we’ll have many visitors or only a few. When it is less busy, those that do come appreciate the extra time we have for them.
One of the women who we serve regularly is excited about potential housing. In a previous journal, I believe we’ve mentioned her and the potential safety issues of moving in with someone that she may not fully trust. I was reminded of this dilemma while we spoke with her again and while we fronted the cold air. The woman has medical problems, uses a walker and while seemingly cognitively capable, she definitely has physical limitations. The weather is a big influence on her decision. She is very anxious to potentially get off of the street and out of the cold with a rent that she thinks she and the other person can manage. We wish her well and will support whatever option she chooses. While we want her warm and housed, we also want her safe.
The woman that we accompanied to the hospital a few weeks ago for a sexual assault has not visited us since that night. We are concerned about her and pray for her well-being. Being as vulnerable as she is, it is not hard to imagine that she would be taken advantage of again. When we develop relationships with those we serve and support them through their experiences, it is difficult to not want to provide some protection for them. However, they are adults and we cannot “fix” their problems. We can, and do, support them as they travel through their situations.
I had the joy of helping deliver Christmas baskets containing food to several people who are now in permanent housing. The difference in their demeanor's from living without housing to now is amazing. Their faces show less stress, their body language is much looser and relaxed. One woman has lost weight and is becoming healthier. It is so enjoyable to see these folks happy and not in their constant worry about how they’ll survive day to day.
The cold is definitely here! Please look at the needs list for our current needs and wishes. I’m happy to say that it appears as though we are set for the winter with hand warmers so I have removed them from the list. We are in need of coats and jackets that are 2 XL or larger, those are our greatest requests as of now. Because of the abundance of items that we’ve received over the last several months – THANK YOU! – I’ve shortened the wish list to just a few yet much needed items.
In closing, I’d like to wish you all a Happy Holiday! It has been an absolute pleasure working with you and getting to know many of you over this last year. I’ve learned how incredibly generous and kind people can be to those in need and am frequently reminded of the power of prayer. I look forward to continue working with you for the care of those we serve.
From all of the volunteers and on behalf of those we serve, thank you so very much for your interest, dedication, support and donations over the last year. Without you, the Street Ministry would not be able to do what we do.
Blessings to all, stay warm and safe!
Karen - Nurse, Plymouth Street Ministry
The dedicated volunteers out this evening were Sam, Mariah, Barb, Becky and Pastor Mike. As a group we’ve really learned to work together for the cause very well and we each seem to have a person or persons that we serve that we connect to. We strive to ensure that everyone’s needs are met and that they are safe, communication as a team is key in order to be consistent and effective. The street ministry is blessed to have so many souls who give their time and talents for the sake of others, this includes not just those volunteering on the street but our donors and supporters, as well. Thank you to everyone!
We served about 25 on this relatively mild but damp December evening. It seems that there are more new people than the people I’ve become used to seeing. We did see some of our “regulars” and for the most part, they are stable.
One of our regulars who has multiple health concerns has a great deal of difficulty walking due to her physical status. Mariah and I met her on the sidewalk a bit of a distance from our post to shorten the distance for her. She has multiple lesions on her legs and is optimistic that most are healing well. She discussed the challenge of sleeping with sleep apnea as well as her depression that, in her words, is “off the charts”. I asked her if there was one thing she could change to make life easier, she said that if she could live without her severe back pain that everything would be better. As for now, she walks about a third of block and has to rest, walks another short distance and rests. She uses a walker and has to carry her belongings with her.
Another person we’ve seen on a routine basis also has health problems. She states that she is considering trying to get an apartment with someone to lower housing costs but the person she would room with has tendencies that she does not always feel safe or comfortable with. It is hard to support her decision when we know she may feel unsafe and is unable to defend herself, we remind her to keep talking to us and keep us informed. While we have our opinions, we know that each person will make their own decision and if we’re needed again, we’ll be available. Fortunately, most of us have likely not been in this position so we can’t understand what we would need to give up in order to have shelter.
Our teamwork and communication were instrumental in managing a situation we had this evening. Last Friday, a young woman, seemingly disabled, approached the street ministry and talked with Barb. She was provided with needed items, safety was discussed and she was told to talk to us if she needed anything, our typical protocol for anyone we encounter. On Monday, the UWEC campus police sent out an email to all students alerting them to a sexual assault that had occurred near Water Street. I forwarded that email to Pastor Mike who then shared the message with the volunteers on the street prior to our going out, as well as had fliers made to hand out to the women we serve as reminder to be cautious. The young woman that Barb had talked to on Friday arrived at the vans again this evening and was accepting of our visiting and the usual bag of food and water as well as the printed flier and the explanation that went with it. She and her friend looked at the information and talked together and then approached Barb and Becky, the woman wanted to talk about a rape that had occurred over the weekend. I joined them and we quickly determined that the woman had been raped and had not yet reported the incident or had been evaluated. We discussed who, what, when and where and confirmed that the woman wanted to report the rape. When she confirmed that she did want to make an official report, we coordinated as group to ensure that her needs came first and also continued to serve those that came to us. The shelter was notified of the situation to ensure that they would save a space for the woman and her friend if we returned late, they were very accommodating and supportive. When these situations arise, we must consider our safety as well so we rarely go to appointments alone. Becky and I went to a local ER with the woman and she was evaluated, her information will be processed in the crime lab. While in the ER, we learned a great deal about the woman. She is very vulnerable due to a cognitive deficit, and from what I could tell, she has been taken advantage of her entire life. She has a history of multiple foster home placements. I’m not suggesting that the foster homes were inadequate but rather that she has a history of instability and has had to learn to survive in any means possible. She is a sweet woman but definitely needs guidance. She has an incredible memory, a definite strength for her report. I’m suspect we will have updates about this woman in the next few weeks as she has no family or friends to stay with and will likely continue to stay at the Sojourner House. While at the ER, Becky and I praised the woman for her courage in reporting the incident. She has an advocate from the district attorney’s office to also support her through the legal part of this journey.
In other journals we’ve discussed the increased rate of sexual assault to the women living without permanent shelter. This young woman had only been in Eau Claire for two nights before finding herself in danger. I wonder how many women out there do not feel confortable enough to report their incident. For our part, all we can do is educate, support and be available as the stories come to us.
As I come to a close on this journal, I want to remind you to look at the needs list as well as the other notices. Have you looked atgofundme.com or been to Lynn’s Chatterbox?
Pray for those we serve ~
‘Til next week,
Like many of you, I can hardly believe December is upon us and the holiday season is fast approaching. We’re enjoying the non-frigid weather and the lack of snow makes life more tolerable for those we serve. It is the people we are called to serve – those without permanent shelter as well as individuals and families that are living in challenging situations -- that are always our focus, our concern and our reason for the Street Ministry. We are grateful for our volunteers and donors for their contributions in our efforts to ease the burden of many people in our community.
There is often much to do in this ministry and we try not to spread ourselves too thin trying to get it all done. There are jail visits to be done, donations to manage (a wonderful challenge!), individuals and families to keep in touch with through tough times as well as our twice weekly visits to the streets. In regards to our individuals and families that we help support, there are approximately 6-8 individuals and 3 families that we have weekly contact with. Their needs aren’t usually great but it is important that we remain available to encourage and support them and keep them housed and fed when times are difficult. None of these tasks could be completed without your support, we are all very grateful for your interest, support and donations.
The mental health of those we serve is always a concern of ours, surviving on the streets is an exhausting process for the, not just physically but emotionally, as well. Please keep our friends in your mind as the holidays come around.
One of the vans that we use regularly is becoming an expense that cannot be afforded much longer. Recently, a repair of hundreds of dollars was required to make it derivable. Over the years, the Street Ministry has put a great deal of money into it and it has reached the point that it just doesn’t make sense to keep doing it. We are now looking for another used van in good condition. Please let us know if you can help us find one.
Monetary donations are also in need. While we receive many physical donations that usually take care of the basic needs of our friends, there are expenses that are incurred, as well. Besides vehicle repairs, there are basic operational costs of the vehicles. We sometimes need to provide meals for a person or purchase diapers or formula for babies. For our jail ministry, we are required to follow strict security guidelines in terms of what is brought in and those items must be purchased and in sealed packages. In general we do not ever give cash out and do not want the person to become dependent on us, however if there is a legitimate need, we will take care of them.
This holiday season, as well as each and every day, many of us have much to be thankful for: food, clothing and shelter among many other things such as friends and families. Our friends on the street often do not have these luxuries and rely on the volunteers and donors to help them along their challenged journey. Please consider looking at the needs list that will be sent with this journal note and share your bountiful blessings with those in need. Holidays are not always a cause for celebration for those without shelter; feelings of sadness and hopelessness sneak in while seeing and hearing others talk about their plans of eating big dinners, staying warm and spending time with friends and families. Keep those in need in your prayers. Blessings to all!
‘Til next week ~
Pastor Mike, Brent and I were on the street tonight. It was a cold night with several of the people we serve needing gloves, hats and coats. One of the women that I will refer to as J had been in the hospital. She was being treated for depression and wanting to harm herself. J was only there for a few days. She was given some medication and was taking it, but needs counseling. J told me that she felt much the same as she did prior to her admission and still thinks about hurting herself. J is in her 50’s and has other health issues. She has been trying to get an apartment but told me that it has been difficult for her because she has an eviction in her history. An eviction, among other things, can make getting an apartment nearly impossible.
I also talked with T. She has a boyfriend in Neillsville and reports having a place to stay there. T cannot leave Eau Claire until she takes care of a personal matter. She has health issues, but is hesitant to take medication due to concerns of side effects of the mefications.
Another women who is obese and has back and leg pain talked to me for a few minutes. She walks with a walker and says she is being treated for her legs. She can only walk so far, before she is out of breath and has to stop and rest.
Women on the street for any length of time are so susceptible to being abused sexually and emotionally. We always ask the women if they are safe and their response is usually yes and that they can take care of themselves.
Pray that the lives of the homeless may be turned around and for the work of this ministry.
Our time on the street started out with some rather dreary weather, the grayness turned to darkness and the cool, wet air was made more noticeable with the gusts of wind. Although the weather was less than desirable from our viewpoint, there was still laughter and smiles to warm hearts – both ours and those we serve. Volunteers this evening included Pastor Mike, Barb, Sam, Michelle, and Mariah.
When we arrived at the parking lot, we learned that one of our regular visitors had called Pastor Mike from Chippewa Falls, WI and requested assistance to avoid interacting with a significant other with abusive tendencies. At the time the woman called, we were preparing to be on the street for the evening and were unsure the best plan to reach her. We are fortunate to have established a relationship with Becky, a coordinator working with the homeless in Chippewa Falls, and a call was made to her to see if she was available to help. Thankfully, Becky provided the assistance needed picked the woman up. The following information is a summary of what the woman shared:
The woman took a bus as far out in Eau Claire as possible and then walked the remainder of the distance to Chippewa in order to be at a required appointment. The discussion she had with the staff about her current situation at the agency overwhelmed her and she felt unsafe returning to Eau Claire due to her partner and his abusive history. She was exhausted as well, she reported having walked the Eau Claire streets all night to avoid staying in the shelter with the man, and she was hungry. Becky took the woman to get food and arranged shelter for the woman for a night and they would meet the next morning to discuss a plan.
This same woman had called Pastor Mike at 4:30 A.M. on Saturday asking for help. When he arrived, she disappeared without explanation, never getting the assistance she had requested. The next time we heard from her she was in Chippewa Falls. We are proud of her for being brave to stay out of a dangerous situation and for asking for help.
We served approximately 25 people, when the weather is rainy we often don’t see as many people. Perhaps they wait to enter the shelter when there isn’t a line of people and we have left. Or maybe they’ve found alternate shelter for the night. Either way, I always hope they’re safe.
Please consider looking at the needs list that will be sent with this journal and help us serve those in need. Blessings to all!
‘Til next week ~
Becky, Brent, Michelle, and Mike were ready with the back of the van open when I arrived at a quarter to six. It was cool--around 40 degrees--but there was little or no wind, so it wasn't too bad. In another month we will be wishing for such weather. For the first half-hour or so I helped Brent hand out food bags. We gave out quite a few, but most people didn't stay long or talk much. BK stayed and I talked with her for quite a while. She was rather cheerful: her significant other, CT, was getting an increase in pay. The two of them are building a tiny trailer-sized house outside of town. (CT has worked in construction in the past.) They are staying in the shelter because they can't afford regular rent and are trying to save enough to finish their tiny house and escape homelessness once and for all. I didn't see CT--BK said he was on his way after work. I hope all goes well and their plans work out. Another man, one I hadn't seen in a couple of years, then stopped by and talked to us--mostly to Mike. He just got laid off, and was back at the shelter until he can make enough to pay the rent. There are a lot of people in the shelter who are hard workers but have such little security in their jobs that they can't stay off the street.
I saw a few other familiar faces: the gentle man suffering from both cancer and aids, a young woman who is trying to get off the streets but has been sexually trafficked since before she was a teenager, a high school kid and his father. FB, another regular I hadn't seen in while, visited as well but didn't stay long. Michelle, Becky, Mike, and Brent were busy getting winter clothing articles and backpacks for people while I stayed at the back of the van handing out food bags. After a while Mike waved me over to the side of the van and asked me to take some notes. Two older men were living under a bridge and needed supplies, and I wrote down their needs. One has a serious drug problem (perhaps both do) and is not allowed in the shelter because of past behavior when he was high. They had been staying by the river, and had some possessions hidden in what they thought were secret places in the woods, but some people--the two thought they were city workers on cleanup detail--took away their tent and hidden possessions while they were gone. They needed sleeping bags, a tent (one had a one-person tent but not enough room for both), and some very wide shoes (one of them men suffers from hammer toes).
JF was one of our last visitors. He is one of our success stories--he has been living in his budget apartment for almost a year, and continues to work at a thrift store. He came by to say hi. Around seven we packed up. The temperature had dropped to the upper 30s. We did a rough count of water bottles and estimated that we served 28 tonight.
Please pray for, and care for, the poor.
Serving our street friends tonight were Pastor Mike, Sam, Mariah, Barb and Michelle. We served forty people tonight in various ways: some wanted food bags, some just water, others needed clothing or a backpack. Their requests are usually not a problem to accommodate and the satisfaction that can be seen on their faces is worth any additional effort we put into what we do. The stability in our weekly presence is very helpful to many people.
Our young mother of three stopped by to inform us that she had met with someone from the county and started filling out job applications. She looked better this evening than we've seen in a long time.
The man we've discussed that was a victim of a house fire is housed! The street ministry helped him find a small apartment. The man has to start over completely and is saddened by his losses, especially the sentimental photographs that were destroyed in the fire.
Thank you for your continued support and interest in Plymouth Street Ministry, we couldn't do what we do without you!
This week, our usual street service on Friday was moved to Saturday and joining Pastor Mike, Barb, Michelle, Greg, and Becky were friends from St. James Trinity Lutheran Church of Fall Creek: Jill, Marcy, Deb, and Cailey . These special visitors brought chili and crackers, a treat for those we serve and we enjoyed a bowl as well. Great thanks to St. James/Trinity for their generosity as well as their assistance with some of our regular volunteer duties.
We served about 35 people, many wanted gloves and hoodies or coats. There is a man that is somewhat new to Eau Claire that has significant medical issues and due to his ailments is often in pain or generally uncomfortable. Due to his discomfort, he is particular about how his clothing fits and feels and it has taken three different visits from him and our searching in our storeroom between visits to find a hoodie that would work. He was very grateful and wanted to give the previously given hoodie back to us but he felt obligated to wash it once he was in the shelter. I took it from him and will wash it. His concern for others as well as not wanting more than he needed is a trait many of our people have. For example, more than once I've had someone come to me with a pair of jeans or a shirt or a backpack that wasn't quite right for one reason or another or they'll only take one of an item even though we say its okay to take more. They often want to trade for something else, this impresses me as it would be just as easy to dump the clothing in the garbage somewhere and just keep asking until the right item comes along. For the most part, I think its safe to say that our people are typically not greedy, not wasteful, and aware of practical limits.
I don't have to much other general information to share as I became involved in a situation that took the rest of our time on the street and extended into the evening. You may recall our journals discussing a young mother with three children. The little family arrived in the dark after getting off of the bus. The mom took some chili, I picked up and held one child who has a tendency to dash off here and there and be unsafe and Barb looked after the baby. We gave them bags of food and water as well as some mittens and clothing. Another volunteer mentioned to me that the mom had reported that they had no where to stay Saturday night. Because of the children being involved, we knew we had to take responsibility for their shelter for the night. The plan was to send them to a motel and call in or bring in a payment after our time on the street. Sounds simple but that was not how it turned out. The mom said that the buses had stopped running for the day so we then needed provide transportation. The kids came on the bus, no car seats were with them. Thankfully, our gracious donors have sent car seats to us and we had that hurdle covered. We then realized that none of us had an available vehicle to transport the family. Greg and I took one of the ministry vans to pick up the car seats and my vehicle that I'd left at Plymouth UCC and then returned to the parking lot with both vehicles to pick up the children, mom and her friend. We brought the group to the motel and then picked up some diapers and personal items and left them in peace. The place the mom and the kids have been staying is a very unhealthy environment for the kids as well as the mom. There is emotional abuse going on between others staying there and the mom, and the kids are getting trapped in the crossfire. This young family is a source of great concern for all of us, we hope that some positive changes occur soon for them.
We were especially grateful for the St. James/Trinity people being present as they took up duties that they maybe did not anticipate doing after a few of us left the site to care for the family noted. Perhaps this crash course in what we do will cause a desire to return as regular volunteers.
The above situation has been on my mind a great deal and I admit that I had some frustrations with the lack of communication that the mom has given us. She has our phone numbers and knows she can text or call 24 / 7 yet she waited until the last moment to mention that she had no shelter for the night as well as some other needs. I had a realization that I wonder if others would benefit from hearing: I cannot judge the mom or question the "why's" of her actions because I have no idea of what its like to be her. I have never lived her experiences, I have never been homeless with three young children, I have never had to take my kids and leave the shelter I've been in to keep us safe. We (the street ministry) believe there's mental illness present and that adds another dimension to the story. The mom clearly has made some questionable decisions but I cannot say with full certainty that in her situation, I'd have done any better. Her decisions are clouded by anxiety, uncertainty, stress, fear and depression. Our job is to care for those in need and we will continue to do just that.
Thank you for your continued interest and support of the street ministry. Please continue to support and pray for those in need.
The weather was beautiful this evening for us -- Brent, Pastor Mike, Barb, Sam, Mariah, and Michelle -- as we served the homeless. We served 38 people, including a mom and daughter that were once housed at Beacon House and are successfully living independently in an apartment. We are grateful for their occasional visits and happy we could be a source of support while they were in a shelter.
As usual, we were on the street from 5:30pm to 7:00pm. Its an hour and a half yet it goes by so quickly. There are many stories to hear, old friends to visit with, new friends to reassure and provide necessities to, bags of food and drink to pass out and supportive conversation among ourselves. Tonight we needed each and every volunteer to accomplish the above tasks efficiently, most importantly, being able to provide the social support that is in such great need.
We've heard through acquaintances that one of our women on the street is becoming increasingly depressed and has had thoughts of harming herself. We know our street family well and when one person is struggling more than usual, it is concerning to us. We'll keep a close eye on her and check in whenever we can as well as encourage her to reach out as much as she chooses to.
One man I'm particularly concerned about is now talking about his willingness to move into a group home. He's wheelchair bound and I've been talking to him since July and trying to help him get himself off of the street before snow flies. I know the city does a good job cleaning up the slushy snow but I am concerned about how he'll safely maneuver across the streets and sidewalks. I'm also concerned that he does not have optimal sensation in his lower extremities and wouldn't be safe from the cold if he's on the street.
We always appreciate any and all donations we receive, thank you so much! Right now we're in great need of 2XL or larger coats and 2XL or larger hoodies. Gloves and hats will be needed more frequently in the next weeks, as well.
Blessings to all and thank you for your support!
As soon as I stepped onto the parking lot on the intersection of Barstow and Seaver, I was reminded of the seasonal change. In the cooler months, there must be factors that cause the wind to blow from every direction as there are 4 flags atop different buildings and each one is waving in a different direction. By the end of our evening the rain was starting and the wind seemed to make the raindrops feel colder and fall harder. The transition from the bright summer days to the dark autumn nights seemed to occur too quickly.
Out on the streets were Pastor Mike, Brent, Barb, Becky, Michelle, Sam and Mariah. We needed the help of every volunteer out there for the 39 people we served. The interactions between the people we serve and the volunteers is enjoyable to watch. I love to hear the sharing of a laugh or the twinkle in eyes, see the hugs freely given as well as seeing the tears in someone eyes as they are given much needed clothing or shoes. Sometimes there are people who are so overcome with emotions that they cannot speak. In those moments, words wouldn't do the moment justice and the person goes on their way.
It seemed that everyone needed gloves tonight and we handed out many pairs of those as well as hats and coats. Thanks to many of those reading this, we have these items available to offer. Thank you!
One of our friends who we'd met and cared for over the summer had not been around for at least a month or two. We were hopeful that with his disability and being in a wheelchair that he had qualified for housing. We were disappointed for him when he arrived back on the street. We spoke to him about the need to get into housing before winter arrives, imagine traversing the city by wheelchair in the snow! We will assist him in getting into contact with his social worker if he hasn't done that by next week.
We encountered a man that had recently lost his home due to a house fire. He stayed at the shelter one night, the Street Ministry has put him into a motel for a few nights so he has a more comfortable place to lay his head and food was provided, as well. He is a farm worker and puts in long hours. He lost everything in the fire, we will keep an eye on him and support him as needed.
Our young mother stopped by this evening, she is becoming increasingly stressed with her situation and the dynamics of her family. Toddlers are normally busy and can be a challenge for any parent, she is raising her family without the luxury of a permanent home. She is staying with a friend for now but has to share a bedroom with her children and her sleep is altered because of it. I am always concerned about her health as well as the children's health.
A friend of the Street Ministry helped obtain employment for one of our trafficked victims. We pray that this will be just the beginning of a new, safe life for her.
By the time our friends headed in to the shelter, the rains had come. I am glad that they had a place to be warm and dry in this cooler weather.
Thank you for your continuing support. Please pray for the homeless and those in need.
Cold weather is coming. It was in the mid forties when I arrived at the municipal parking lot at 5:45, and was in the low forties when I left around seven. We gave out quite a few hats, gloves, and warmer sweatshirts. Becky, Brent, Deb, Michelle, Mike and I were all helping. When I arrived an older looking man was talking with Mike and Brent. I only caught the end of his tale, but he is new in town. He had been in California but somehow--I missed that part of his story--arrived here. He suffers from several ailments including bone cancer and is currently trying to get better medical care. He was hard to understand--I think he was missing many of his teeth and that affected his speech. We gave him food, warmer clothes, and a duffel bag.
Another man talked with us, although mainly with Mike, for many minutes. He has been trying to find housing. He has a part time job at a grocery store and wants to work full time but the store won't raise his hours. He also has felony convictions in his past, although he has been out of prison for more than a year. When we mentioned some programs that serve those who have been in prison, he said that he now makes too much money to be eligible for them. When we mentioned other programs, he said he had tried them but they turned him down because he was a convicted felon. We gave him a couple of more leads, but he was clearly tired of all the bureaucracy.
We had many women visitors, although I didn't talk with many of them. We try to have women volunteers talk with the women privately because so many are victims of sexual violence and trafficking and are reluctant to open up to men. Brent and I stayed near the back of the van and handed out food bags, water bottles, and winter clothing items. We also distributed some hygiene supplies. I'm guessing we served about 25 people tonight.
Please pray for, and care for, the poor.
Serving our homeless friends this beautiful evening were Brent, Sam, Mariah, Barb, Sandy, Deb and Pastor Mike. While the overall number of people we served was about 34, we needed every single volunteer we had to keep up and give each person the attention they needed and deserved. With the weather getting cooler, hoodies were in high demand as were the lighter weight coats, gloves and hats we brought with us.
I met a man who is new to Eau Claire and who seems to be struggling. He reports having multiple serious medical conditions and needing treatment and medication for his ailments. After going to a local ER, he's in a holding pattern as far as treatment goes until his records are received from his previous doctors and hospitals. He had nothing to speak of in terms of weather-appropriate clothing and only a plastic grocery bag to carry his things around. We outfitted him with a backpack, a hoodie, gloves, and a hygiene kit. He needs more things but is concerned about carrying large amounts of clothing from place to place. He needed some assistance in figuring out where to go or who to contact in regards to changing medical benefits from California to Wisconsin. He'll have to contact the social security office for his Medicare and will need to establish with the county to apply for Food-share benefits as well. These tasks are made more difficult with no phone or transportation. We talked for quite a long time, by the time we'd gotten him settled with the few clothing items that he'd take, he had tears in his eyes and thanked me over and over again for our just being there and being willing to listen and help him. Really, I should have thanked him for sharing his story and trusting us.
Barb, Deb and I spoke with a woman who is trying to get to a community that she claims is about 40 miles from Eau Claire. She had a lot to tell and we struggled to keep up with the twists and turns of her story. The woman deals with high anxiety, she has a prescription for an anti-anxiety medication but the medicine is in her cousin's apartment and she's had a falling out with the cousin. She experienced physical violence at the hands of the cousin and does not feel that the cousin will allow her in to get her medication or her other belongings. For now, she'll stay at the Sojourner House until she's able to get a ride or pay for a ride to the next town, she says she has a friend there.
I did not get a chance to visit with too many other people, I saw the other volunteers interacting with many old faces and several new faces. It seemed that most people were requesting hoodies or the lightweight jackets we'd brought with. Looking at the temperatures for the rest of the week, we'll need to restock those items for Friday.
Pastor Mike and I went to meet with a woman who works in Chippewa Falls where she advocates and cares for the homeless there. It was a very positive meeting, we felt we gained another ally and offered support to her as well. We occasionally drive through Chippewa Falls at night looking for people in need, its reassuring knowing that there is help and the people there have a solid resource.
All in all, it was a fairly routine night and that's okay. Our people do not need any more stress or drama in their lives, calm and routine is probably best. As always, thank you for your interest and on-going support.
We arrived at the parking lot across from Sojourner House about 5:30pm and we had visitors arriving right away. Tonight we had Brent, Pastor Mike, Deb, Michelle, Sarah - a visiting social work student, Mariah, Barb, and Sam. It is rewarding to know that we are a viewed as a constant for people in a world of uncertainty. While we offer items that may be needed as well as the food, water and juice, sometimes I think that many of the people that come to see us are in need of non-material things and we are happy to oblige in a sense of community with a handshake, a hug, a prayer or simply an ear to listen or a share a laugh.
As you may be aware, we have been working with five trafficking victims. One of the women came to see us this evening, while it was good to see her and know that she is okay, her presence reminded us of the dangers, especially for women, of being on the street. She has some medical concerns and was not sure how she was going to make an appointment with her doctor without a phone or knowing how she would get to the clinic. By the time she left us, I think we had a realistic plan in place for her. We've had contact with three of the other women within the last two weeks and will continue to support them in their needs. Each person we meet has a unique story, we're going to begin documenting those histories so that we may better serve them in their needs, be it finding counseling or medical services, legal help, housing, anything that may be of use during their journey to a safer and brighter future.
We also have six people in jail at this time that we're caring for and visiting. It is important for them to know that they are supported and not forgotten.
On another note, two of our friends who have been on the streets for several years each have both been accepted into the Western Dairyland program "Housing First" and have gotten apartments! Both people stopped by and they look fantastic, the stress of being homeless weighed heavily on them and for a very long time they appeared rightfully exhausted and despondent. Today they both walked a little taller, their moods reflected their relief, it was a joy to see a side of them that I've never seen before. They have multiple requests for their new place, I'll add the list to the end of my note.
The change of seasons upon us is very obvious when the sun goes down, it gets cool quite quickly. While we have received many hoodies, we will need more to pass out, especially in the XL + sizes. We are trying to be prepared and are requesting all winter wear: gloves & mittens, coats, hats, and hand warmers.
Thank you for your ongoing support.
Please continue to pray for those in need.
It was pleasant tonight--sunny with the temperature was in the 60s when I arrived at a quarter to six. As I walked over the the vans where Brent, Michelle, and Mike were working a woman shouted happily and ran over to me. She was smiling as she waved a set of keys in my face. She was one of the first homeless people I had met back when Plymouth Street Ministry started over three years ago. Now, finally, she was showing me the keys to her apartment. Mike had referred her to a program run by Western Dairyland that got her off the street and into housing. We also heard news that another long time member of our street congregation also got a new apartment the same way. To add to the good news, a third long-time visitor has finally saved up enough on his own to afford a small room. He has only a bed and a file cabinet, which he uses as a chest of drawers, but he was happy with that, and Michelle was helping him to find agencies where he could get some free or very inexpensive used furniture.
It was not all joy, tonight, however. There was also a sense of foreboding among many of the homeless. Several commented how cold the evenings have become. They also noted fatalistically that winter is not far off. Two men wondered if the first snow would come in early November, or even late October.
We had a fairly steady flow of visitors to the vans. We saw a few folks we hadn't seen in many months. There were also a few we had never seen before, including one man that appeared to be dazed or high. He had come to Eau Claire recently and is living in a tent somewhere in the woods. Another man talked with us for quite a while. He had been staying with a woman who got back into drugs. The man is a recovering alcoholic and tried to talk her out of using, but she either wouldn't listen or couldn't quit. He decided that it was better to leave her and his housing and live in a homeless shelter than to risk staying in that environment. He has a job operating construction equipment for an agency, but has been unable to get to work sites for the last few days since his car is not running. Mike is going to get him a bike so he can go to local jobs. The man also admitted that he has trouble handling money, and asked about financial and budgeting mentoring programs. Michelle found several churches that offer such programs and gave him that information. To most of our visitors we have a bag containing a bottle of water, a juice pouch, and some food. We also distributed a few pairs of socks, a hat, some hygiene supplies, and at least one sweatshirt. We estimate that we served about 35 people tonight.
Please pray for, and care for, the poor.
Plymouth Street Ministry notes by Karen
During my time volunteering on the street, I've talked with numerous people with health concerns -- either their physical health or their mental health, or both. The journals written by myself and others -- in fact, Michelle wrote about health problems that she was told about last week -- tell tales of someone who has been ill or in the hospital, or someone has who had surgery and had a brief hospital stay or maybe no stay at all, and they have returned to the street all too soon. I cannot imagine having to recuperate from an illness or a procedure having the library or an agency of some sort as my only safe and quiet place for recovery. By being homeless and not having a controlled environment, there is an increased chance of infection, an overall poor diet will effect healing time, and the lack of necessary items such as equipment or simply a place to relax can prolong recuperation. The stress of the medical issue added to the already constant stress of homelessness must be almost unbearable to some people.
On Tuesday, I talked with two women who report significant health matters. One woman appeared despondent, she said she had talked with her physician earlier that day and testing had indicated that she had significant decreased pulmonary (lung) function. She was going to be treated with oral medications and inhalers and hoped that breathing would be easier. Her function was not poor enough to warrant oxygen but it is poor enough to limit her daily activities. Her shortness of breath causes sleep problems, she says that its even harder to breath laying down. She said she can walk one block before having to sit down, she has a nice walker that she can turn around and use as a seat to rest. I wonder how she'll manage in the winter? During the last winter season she didn't have any walker or seem ill, she stayed in her car with another person just about every night and seemed relatively healthy.
The other person I talked to has significant health problems, multiple diseases fighting her in various degrees. Her legs are so swollen that they are cracking open and draining, she says that the best practice for the condition would be to elevate her legs as much as possible, not an easy option for someone without a place to stay log-term. Another problem is her needing a walker that she states is in a storage unit that she cannot get to. The vehicle that she and her husband had been using is now in disrepair and may have been towed out of a city lot, it was there on Tuesday when I talked with them but as of Friday, it was no longer sitting on the lot. Without the vehicle, transportation is obviously an issue and while they do take the bus once in awhile, funding for that is limited, too, and the bus likely doesn't go right to the storage unit. She's aware of the importance of managing the open areas on her legs, she has a history of having wounds like this and knows what will happen if she doesn't take care of them.
There are a great number of people on the street with some form of mental illness or another, and often it is untreated. Treatment for mental illness needs to be consistent and attainable and this is not always a possibility. Transportation, lack of stability, lack of insurance, and level of cognition are just a few reasons that mental health care is difficult for our people to obtain.
Medication management is still another challenge on the street: depending on the medication, a person needs to go to great lengths to protect their prescription or risk it being stolen from them. Its just one more thing for them to be concerned about, as is taking the medication at certain times or with food. Being ill in any form is not convenient even if you do have a home. Without shelter and roaming the streets, an illness complicates matters.
There's no easy answers and my objective is simply to make you aware of yet another challenge our street people face. Please pray for the health and wellness of our street family!
Rain, rain, rain! The showers seem to hold off just until 5:30pm when Mike and Brent drove onto the parking lot and then the clouds let loose. Braving the weather were Brent, Kaye,
Sandy M., Pastor Mike and myself. Our visitors started arriving right away at 5:30pm and it remained steady. Approximately 35 people were served, three of them being new to the streets of Eau Claire. I wonder if there will ever be a time that there won't be homeless people in this community, is there anything than can be done now as well as long term to end this struggle so many people are facing? One of my professors told me once that the best way to end homelessness is simply to provide homes, but are we willing to do that?
We had some very special guests this evening. Mike had received a message from someone saying that she and a friend had daughters that had raised some money ($200!!!) for the Street Ministry and they had purchased some items we were in need of. The writer wanted to know if they could come down and donate the goods. Yes!!! Out into the rain came two girls, one ten years old and one nine years old, with their families tagging behind. The girls shared that they had made Rainbow Loopy bracelets and didn't sell them but rather would give them away and would accept donations for their wares. They'd gone to their churches, Altoona United Methodist Church and St. James Catholic Church in Eau Claire, they'd went door to door and other places to offer their bracelets. They were incredibly dedicated to their goal and ultimately had collected a good amount of money. The girls purchased much needed backpacks as well as other items off of our needs / wish list. I cannot convey how impressed I am and truly grateful I am to the girls for their efforts. If two young girls can orchestrate this, what can adults do? Our support for the ministry is nothing less than incredible, I am aware of that fact every day. These girls made me stop and wonder: what else can I do? What else can WE do? Be inspired!
The young woman who told us she'd been raped last week was back, I discussed the need for her to seriously start looking for stable housing for the safety of herself and her children. She agreed of the need, I believe she is completely overwhelmed with life and that if she would participate in some type of counseling for the years of abuse she's endured, that she would be better for it. Until she's ready, my talking about it doesn't do much good. She does know that she can trust us and sees us as one of the very few constants in her life.
Another one of our regulars, an older adult compared to most of the people we see, was ill an was on her way to be evaluated at a local hospital. She has some health conditions that she tries to manage but at times, its difficult. Being homeless is difficult without adding on the stress of a chronic condition and age being another factor. I pray for her well-being and a quick recovery from whatever is ailing her.
A number of items were given out including about six backpacks and five hoodies, some socks and hygiene kits. Its clear that the summer is winding down and we're going to need to swap out summer items in the vans to hoodies and warmer wear before too long.
Thank you so much for all of your support and continued interest in the Street Ministry, we are all grateful for all you do and know that this is a team effort. Please continue to pray for those in need!
Representing the Plymouth Street Ministry today were Barb, Sam, Mariah, Deb, Michelle, Pastor Mike and myself. We served about 36 people, all gracious souls who count on us being there every Tuesday and Friday for support and friendship.
A woman that we've known for a few months asked to talk privately, she reported being raped at a park over the weekend. She did report the incident to the police and a medical exam was also done. Her story is unfortunately not that uncommon. While many of the homeless people in our community are vulnerable, women especially are subjected to unsafe conditions. A statistic of concern is that if a woman stays on the street for more than two months, her risk of experiencing some sort of assault is up to 80%. We've seen women and girls come to us with bruises, with stories of violence they've experienced including sexual assault. Over the last few months, the Street Ministry has adopted a policy that all females are asked if they are safe or need to talk and we always encourage them to contact us for any reason, especially if they feel unsafe. Often the women we're most concerned about have a male with them, we strive to separate them so that the female volunteers have a few minutes to talk and assess the situation with the reminder to contact us if needed.
Some of our regulars did not come to see us, I always wonder where they are and if they're safe. After being on the streets regularly, it seems we're a sort of family and I am always hoping that where they are, all are safe. We did, however, have a couple of newcomers and we will support them as needed.
As always, THANK YOU for your support, interest and prayers. Please review the wish list and if you feel led to donate, let us know!
The Plymouth Street Ministry vans arrived at the parking lot around our usual 5:30pm time. As Pastor Mike and I arrived, I saw Mariah, Sam, Mary and two new volunteers, Pat and Deb waiting for us. I enjoy seeing the other volunteers each week, and its always exciting to have new volunteers present to explain to how our organization functions. We always want new volunteers to have a good experience and open their eyes to a population that maybe they hadn't known about before. When we're busy or when we have unique situations occurring, being on the street is like no other experience. I believe we served about 35 people this evening, a slower evening compared to recent weeks.
I usually write about the more unusual and memorable experiences, this evening was different. There was no one reporting a crisis, no one in dire need of anything, no one really needing anything. The pregnant girl was by and she announced she's entered into her 25th week of the pregnancy. We discussed how she has taken the steps for Badger-care, Food-share, and claims she has friends to stay with. Its beyond me why she'd want to be pregnant and on the street. We had a few visitors that we hadn't seen for a few months and then we noticed some of our regular people did not show up. A mom and daughter who had previously been at the Beacon House came for a visit. They looked well and it was fun to talk with the little girl.
All of the volunteers are skilled at starting conversations with our visitors and making them feel comfortable. Mariah and Sam have been doing an exceptional job since their initial visit last spring. As future social workers its important for them to be able to initiate and encourage conversations and make the client feel comfortable. This is a wonderful chance to practice and learn skills for their future.
In closing, please remember to pray for our fellow citizens in need. Without prayers and all of the other support you generously provided, the Street Ministry could not function. Thank you for all you do!
Plymouth Street Ministry Journal - Friday, Sept. 4, 2015
Tonight was an emotionally painful night. I knew something was up because Mike called me a little after 5pm. I had already emailed him that I would be volunteering tonight, so when the phone display said it was Mike calling, I knew that either the van had broken down and he needed a lift or jump start, or that something important was troubling him. I wish it had been the van. Mike told me that he had seen a woman on the street--a woman that he, Michelle and Karen had tried to help on Tuesday--and asked her if she needed help. She told him that there were a couple of guys looking for her and she was trying to get away. Mike took her in the van and drove away from the area so she would feel safe. He learned that she was being sexually trafficked--she described some terrible things. Mike made a few phone calls. One was to Jodi from Fierce Freedom, an anti-human trafficking group. She has been out with us many times in the past. Another was to Michelle from Feed My People, who has a lot of experience working with traumatized people, and is also a regular volunteer with the Street Ministry. I was cooking when Mike called me, trying to keep dinner from burning while talking on the phone, but I told Mike I'd be there as soon as I could.
I arrived at the parking lot at 5:40pm. It was hot, humid, and sunny; my car thermometer said 84 degrees but because of the humidity it felt a lot hotter. Barb, Brent, Jodi, Sandy M, and Mike were there. Michelle was in a lone car on the other side of the parking lot--about as far away as possible--with a young woman in the passenger seat. Mike was talking with a different woman.
Mike motioned for Barb, Jody, and me to go to see Michelle. He remained talking with the other woman. We walked over to the car and introduced ourselves to the young woman in the front seat. Michelle started to talk when Mike walked back with the other woman. He stopped a few yards away and waved Jodi and me come over. He introduced us and told the woman that we would listen to her story. She (the woman who had been talking to Mike) had been helped by the Street Ministry for several years, although I didn't recognize her. She said that her son had arranged for some man to take care of her--she had substantial health problems--and that man turned out to be very abusive. He controlled who she could see, made her put all her phone calls on speaker phone, and pestered her for sexual favors, which she refused. He was physically intimidating and mentally controlling. He threatened to throw her onto the street or call the police on her (for what, she didn't say). This situation lasted for several days--I think about a week but am not certain. One day when she was gone for more than a couple of hours doing laundry, he became angry and put all her possessions outside the house, expecting her to come back groveling. She was stronger than he reckoned, however, and left. She was safer but now homeless. The man then texted her, begging her to come back, but she refused. She was hot and sweating as she talked--we all were tonight--so we got her some cold water. She assured us that she felt safe--the police were aware of her situation and the man had to appear in court soon for choking another woman. She felt confident he would be put in jail soon. Just to be safe, however, she always stays near other people. She said she needed to sit in the shade, and we had neither a chair nor shade in the parking lot, so she walked across the street to the benches in front of the shelter, assuring us that she was safe. My work with the Street Ministry has taught me how wrong stereotypes often are, and I try hard not to hold them, but they are difficult ideas to lose. I'll admit that I expected women who end up in a situation like she did to be meek and lacking self-esteem, but here was a very strong woman who endured through a nightmare and got herself out of it. As she left, she was assuring us that all was ok, and not the other way around! She still has a rough road ahead, however.
Jodi and I then walked back over to the first woman, the one in the car with Michelle. She was now was out of the car and Barb had been making a list of items that she needed--clothing, shoes, and so on--and also trying to make the woman feel more comfortable. Barb has a very calming and empathetic manner and was a good person to be doing that. Michelle was on the phone calling shelters that would be appropriate for a woman in her situation. The woman herself looked terrible. I don't know how to describe it--she looked haunting, dejected. She looked like she was at the same time terrified but also didn't care anymore. We tried to assure her that she would be safe--that we would find her a safe place. I was trying to decide if my presence was helpful, or, because I was a man, if I was intimidating or keeping her from talking. She was sweating and I asked if she would like some cold water. She said yes, she would like that, so I walked back to the van. I came back a couple of minutes later with a bag of food and several cold water bottles for her and for us--we were all hot. She didn't seem bothered by my presence so I stayed. Michelle had wandered away for a bit and had been on the phone yet again. She had called a hospital to see if they could get the woman in for a visit tonight. Michelle also contacted a shelter that specializes in caring for abused women. The shelter thought they had an opening and was looking into it. Michelle came back over and talked with the woman--would it be okay if they went to the hospital to have her health checked? There might be a wait but the hospital would be cool, and they would take her to a shelter afterward. To my surprise the woman said yes, it sounded like a good idea. Michelle phrased it so well. We all knew, I'm pretty sure including the woman herself, that we were worried about exposure to STDs, but Michelle asked so gently, never insisting or pushing, and got what we all thought was the best result possible.
We asked if she had had any dinner. She told us that either Mike or Michelle had bought her some chicken strips. (She remembered who provided her dinner, but I forgot what she said.) We then got her some better shoes (the ones she had were way too large) and some socks (she had on extremely thick, woolly ones that must have been unbearable on a day like today). Jodi was lining up a second shelter in case the first one fell through, but Michelle then got a confirmation that the first shelter could take her. Michelle and Jodi agreed to take her to the hospital first, and then the shelter, and wouldn't leave her alone. They were about to leave when the woman held out her arms to Mike. She wanted to hug. Mike held her for quite some time. I don't know if she was crying, because I turned away because I was starting to cry. It is the most emotional I think I've ever felt during Street Ministry, which is not a light statement. I walked back to the van. Brent and Sandy M had been handling all the other visitors for quite some time.
For the remainder of the time we handed out lots of cold water, cold juice, and food bags. We saw and talked with many other visitors. I didn't get a count because I was at the back of the parking lot for so long, but I'm guessing we served somewhere between 30 and 50 people. The most notable to me was a mother and her little girl. The mother had few wants--we had helped them before but were now being helped by a shelter for families. We asked if they needed school supplies--no, the shelter was providing those as well. They just wanted to say hi to us. The little girl however, then asked for a dress. Barb carefully recorded her request and we will do our best to find her a nice one.
As always, please pray for, and care for, the poor. Please especially pray for all who are trafficked and all who are in abusive situations.
Tonight was rather unexciting, which isn't a bad thing. I arrived at 6pm to find Brent, Pastor David of Plymouth UCC, Mike, and Sandy M already there. We had a steady stream of visitors, I estimate between 35 and 40, but most stayed only for a few moments and took a bag of food, some juice, and a water bottle. We gave one man some pants, shirts, and shoes. He is very large and we had trouble finding clothing to fit him, but a friend of the Street Ministry came through with donations and we passed the items on to him.
A young woman, who is expecting in late December, stopped by. She has a job and a car, but no home. We are concerned about her, especially as she gets farther along in her pregnancy, and are hoping we can help her find better housing than the shelter. Another man, who had lived under a bridge in town for over a month, was hopeful that he has a job lined up as a launderer starting next week. He has also found temporary housing with a friend of his. We hope both the job and housing work out for him.
The sky threatened rain throughout the evening, but, for the most part, it was a pleasant evening weather wise. We did get a few minutes of light drizzle and that reduced our stream of visitors briefly, but otherwise it was dry with the temperature in the upper sixties and an occasional gentle breeze. Several homeless people commented on the weather appreciatively.
I heard a few street rumors--this person was in jail and that person left Eau Claire, and so on. We learned that one of our former regulars has found a place and was off the street--that's always good news to hear.
Two different men appeared to be shaking and twitching and "bouncing off the walls" as they talked with us. We wondered if their actions were drug related--at least one of them has a reputation as a heavy drug user. He immediately started eating some of the food we gave him as he talked to us in a herky-jerky manner. The other man, perhaps in his late teens, smoked a cigarette as he walked around--across the street, then back over to us, then to another car in the parking lot, then back to us--never calmly and never stopping to rest. On the whole our visitors seemed young tonight; most of those staying in the shelter appeared to under 25.
As shelter opening time, 7pm, approached, the number of visitors to our vans dwindled, and we packed up and left.
Please pray for, and care for, the poor.
It was a rare Friday for me--I arrived at the municipal parking lot at 5:35, a couple of minutes before Mike and Brent came driving the two Street Ministry vans. Sandy M arrived a few minutes later. We had many visitors tonight; Brent and I estimated around 45. As usual, to most we gave a bag with some imperishable food and candy, a water bottle, and a juice pouch. Tonight we also had a cooler filled with sealed blocks of cheese of a size that would be a single serving for a person with a good appetite. I was a bit surprised at how popular the cheese was--it seems so ordinary in my middle-class life--but, as several of our visitors told me, when you lack access to a refrigerator it is hard to keep cheese.
One of our first visitors was a woman bringing her seven-month-old baby in a stroller. She stayed at the van for quite a while, and, a few minutes later, many of the women staying in the shelter saw her and came over to see or hold the baby and to try to get it (sorry about the "it"--I was busy handing out bags of food and never found out if it was a boy or a girl) to smile.
I offered to help another woman who approached the van. She was so soft spoken that I had trouble hearing her. She told me she couldn't eat the food we had, but accepted a bottle of water. She then left but later returned when Mike wasn't busy and talked with him. It takes a long time for many of the homeless to trust someone. Mike had built up that trust with her and I hadn't. She was comfortable talking to Mike in front of me, however. (Mike is very good about recognizing when people want privacy and will walk away from the back of the van--where I usually am and where we hand out the food bags--to talk more privately, but she began telling Mike about her problems before he had a chance to move.) She was a bit confused about her medications and had trouble taking them at the proper time and in the proper amounts. Mike called up Karen on his cell phone and let the two women talk. Karen is one of our volunteers who is usually out on Tuesdays. She is also a nurse and, evidently, had helped the woman with her medications in the past. Apparently the phone counseling was successful because the woman seemed satisfied.
Brent and I heard some good news--a man we gave some food to told us he had just landed a full-time job in a factory making large air filters. He starts on Monday. He got the job through an agency in Chippewa that we have been referring people to. The man also told us that the company was hiring more people. Shortly after, our friend who works at a car wash came buy on his bike. He was about to leave when I asked him how the car wash job was going. He said it was going well, but then paused and told Brent and me more of his story. First, he said he had been sober for 90 days now. He also told us about his educational background--he is quite skilled in many areas of technology including electronics. He said he might look for a better job soon. Although the car wash was good to him, and he has been a good employee there, he has the skills for a much higher paying job. We told him about the possible job openings at the factory.
We had a fairly steady stream of visitors throughout the evening. In addition to the food items, we also gave out a pair of shorts, a shirt, a backpack, and a hygiene kit. (We probably gave out quite a bit more, but those are the items I helped distribute.) We also made a list of requested items from others visitors.
A few minutes before shelter opening time CT came over. I talked with him for a few minutes. He has been gradually buying wood to build a "tiny house" next to his camper. He earns a living as a roofer, but often stays at the shelter because he cant afford the gas to commute from his camper out in the country into town and back.
Although tonight was a pleasant evening--the temperature was in the upper seventies and humidity was not a problem--I heard apprehensive comments about winter already. It will be cold soon enough, and that is unsettling to those on the street. The shelter opened at 7, and I left about 10 minutes after that.
Please pray for, and care for, the poor.
I'm writing a note not for donations and not for help but simply to share a story of a young woman in our community who is in need of our prayers. Her situation is quite bleak in my opinion, and I'm not really sure where to start to begin to be of service to her.
This young woman is 24 years old, she has two children (ages 1 and 2) and recently had a baby that I've been concerned about for multiple reasons. The woman had tried breast-feeding and supplementing that with formula from WIC but she couldn't produce enough and didn't get enough formula to last very long. The street ministry has provided formula for now but the woman needs a plan to support the baby. The baby is small, doesn't seem to be gaining a "normal" amount of weight and I believe doesn't seem to be developing as would be expected. I've talked to the woman enough to gain some of her trust and she agreed to let me help her make an MD appointment and ensure getting her there, which we did on Thursday. I was comforted that that the doctor said that the baby had gained an acceptable amount of weight from birth but he added there is not an ounce to gamble with as far as consistent weight gain. For now, the baby is stable. I offered to go to WIC with her but she didn't have the necessary documents with her to be processed so for now, the formula the Street Ministry and that the clinic provided will have to suffice. I'm going to keep reminding her to go to WIC and will accompany her if she'll allow me to do so. Diapers are another issue, one that she'll need to stay on top of and somehow manage to obtain.
The young woman has multiple stressors: she's homeless, she has a horrible relationship with the kids' father and his new wife who typically have the 2 older kids in their custody. Her father who she had been staying with a few months back was just released from jail for domestic abuse against a woman that the street ministry is familiar with. She has absolutely no income, history of molestation and rapes starting when she was 11 years old that she still reports having nightmares about (she says she's often afraid to go to bed so add to this list: sleep deprivation), no transportation, reports frequent hunger, fear of losing the kids. I'm wondering if she has some cognitive deficits or is simply so overwhelmed that she can't get herself moving in a positive direction. She told the doctor that she trusts few people and therefore has a very small to non-existent support system. I asked her if she ever had some time for herself away from the kids and she said no, but she didn't want that as the baby was like a "security blanket" to her. She has little to no work history and even if she could obtain a job, she wouldn't have reliable and safe daycare. Yesterday she expressed interest in a job program (W2?) but she does not know much about it or how to get into contact with the necessary people. Her entire situation boggles my mind and if I'm stressed by it, I can only imagine how she feels living it.
I'm sure there are more people like this in the community and I'm not suggesting that we get involved at all other than prayers of hope and support. Stories like this remind me of how privileged I am as well as to be thankful for all of the people in my life and the gifts and talents I've been given. It given me reason to contemplate what, if anything, can I do for this woman or others like her.
Please pray for this young woman and especially for her very young children, I fear they all have a bumpy road ahead of them.
Thanks for your attention,
Plymouth Street Ministry Journal - Tuesday, August 11, 2015
This evening, Brent and his son, Sandy, Barb, Jens and myself were on the streets of Eau Claire being of service to those in need. Mike, Plymouth's street pastor was out of town and for the most part, all went well. It was apparent how those on the street view Mike and his reliability and care for them, many asked out of concern where he was and if he was okay. I don't believe that many of the people we serve rely solely on us for the food or clothing but rather for some consistency and stability in their lives. They know that every Tuesday and Friday that we will be there ready to listen, ready to pray, ready to support them in their time of need.
Two of the women we see on a regular basis are being treated for bedbugs, a third woman claims to have symptoms but has not sought treatment. The shelter denies it being possible due to their cleaning protocol. Regardless of the cause, these women are quite uncomfortable. No men have reported symptoms at this point, I hope that these three cases are isolated and no others develop the same symptoms. The women have little choice each night but to accept the shelter staff's claim, hoping that no additional bites or symptoms develop. People on the street often do not have much recourse to dispute issues. For these women, if they stand up for themselves too strongly, it is possible that they would be told to leave the shelter. Others don't raise concerns for their issues for fear of the police being contacted. Sometimes the cost of standing up for oneself is too great of a risk, and that is very sad.
We had a newcomer in town, she claims she left her partner due to his heroin habit and for safety reasons. She reports that if she had stayed in the home with him that violence either towards her or towards him would have eventually developed, she was very afraid for her safety. The woman is in a wheelchair due to injuries decades ago that caused permanent nerve damage. I am especially concerned about wheelchair-bound people who wander the streets, their vulnerability compared to those more mobile is definitely increased.
There are two women that interviewed for jobs, we pray for success for them. Another woman will be starting a job on Wednesday, she has had a rough time as of late and a job would distract her mind from her personal problems as well as start her on her way to getting off of the streets.
The man we refer to as the white supremacist has indicated a desire to leave Eau Claire and go to a another city in a different state. I think that if he leaves, many lives in our community will be much more at ease. He has talked to Pastor Mike and asked if he would help him with a one way ticket to another Midwest destination where his family is located.
We served about 40-45 people, by the end of the month that number will likely grow. Please continue to support the street ministry in any way you choose, and as always, thank you for what you do. Feel free to contact us if you're interested in volunteering, we'd love to have you!
It is so hard to believe that its August. It was not that long ago that we were bundled up in the cold and wishing for the warm weather we had tonight. The cooler weather will be returning in a flash, I suspect, and we'll still be on the street ministering to those in our community who are in not as fortunate as ourselves. This evening we (Jens, Kelly, Barb, Brent, Michelle, Pastor Mike and myself) served approximately 38 people.
I cannot speak for the other volunteers or tell the stories they heard. Of the 38 visitors we had tonight, I spent nearly all of my time between two women and listening and talking with them. The first woman has been on the streets of Eau Claire since June, I believe she had been homeless in Lacrosse, WI prior to her arrival here. We questioned the legitimacy of her story during our initial meeting and our concerns have grown at each visit. Without going into a great deal of specifics, the basics of her story is that she claims she has a fiancé overseas who is bringing home a child for them to adopt. Today, another woman approached us with more information and we felt we needed to speak frankly with the first woman of our concerns. We wholeheartedly believe she has gotten herself involved in a scam. She has sent money to an account somewhere, the person she sends it to has claimed repeatedly that for various reasons he is unable to get to Eau Claire for her, and the child she anticipates adopting likely does not exist. It was difficult to essentially break this woman's heart, dash her hopes and the dreams that she's been living for, but at some point we felt we needed to, at the very least, suggest a different way of thinking for her own protection. She remained calm the entire visit, we shared our continued support of her and encouraged her to contact us as needed to simply talk. After our discussion, she chose to not stay at the shelter and wandered off. She is not a healthy woman by any means. I firmly believe that she's been taken advantage of and that we did the right thing by talking to her about that possibility, but myself being a dreamer, I understand how hearing the truth can hurt. For someone with nothing else giving her a glimmer of hope during her struggles, telling her our concerns seemed like a cruel thing to do. I end my day thinking about her and hoping she either returned to the shelter or is safe somewhere tonight.
My other story relates to a newcomer and I can find no other word to describe our interaction other than "bizarre". Pastor Mike and I had seen this woman on Monday, she was sitting in a wheelchair outside of the shelter with a vast array of belongings. The shelter enforces their policy of bringing limited belongings inside and I was curious about where her things would be placed. I kept my eyes open and spotted her coming down the street with very little with her. I met her on the sidewalk and tried talking to her, she was hesitant to talk with me. With every question I posed to her, rather than answer it she would ask me the same question. When I answered, she would then answer. She finally told me that she was checking me out so see if I was safe or if I would harm her, or if she believed that I was trying to get something from her. She was wearing a long white shirt, the cuffs on the shirt were folded back and the buttons were missing. To keep the fabric controlled, she had what appeared to be two black rubber bands looped and tied through the buttonholes of the cuffs of both sleeves. She had a black leather vest, black jeans and sandals, as well as a black hat and a bright pink scarf covering the back of her head. I flipped-flopped between thinking she is mentally ill or an eccentric lady. I hope we'll see her again, if for no other reason to know she's safe.
There was good news from one of our long time visitors, she reported being approved for housing and will be transitioning to an apartment sometime in September. She's been homeless for many years after losing her job in food service. She's a leader among the homeless population and a good resource for us when we are trying to locate someone or need information about an individual. While we'll miss her smile and stories, we're happy for her to have a place to call home.
Thank you for your continued support of both the street ministry and of the community's less fortunate. Please pray for the safety and well-being of all.
I was running a little late tonight and arrived at the parking lot just before 6pm. It was a warm evening--in the low 80s--but not unpleasant. Mike and Brent were already there and talking to a couple of visitors. Michelle came a few minutes later.
Tonight seemed to be clothing night--there was a big demand for men's socks, men's underwear, T-shirts, and pants, and, fortunately, we were able to find correct sizes for almost everyone. At first we didn't have the correct sizes for one man, and he left to wait for the shelter across the street to open. Shortly thereafter, however, we discovered the needed items in another box. We waved for him to come back over and gave him the articles. Another man was recently homeless. He had been unable to find an affordable apartment. Although he had enough money to stay for a couple of weeks at a cheap motel, if he did that he would not have enough for the deposit on an apartment if he does find one. So, for the time being, he is staying in the shelter, which is probably a wise move on his part. He seemed to have a good plan for escaping homelessness and I am optimistic about his chances. Yet a third man had worked at the university food service for ten years. The company recently let him go to cut costs, and, as a result, he is staying in the shelter. We are trying to help him find a new food service or possibly janitorial job.
We gave out around 30 bags of food and I'm guessing helped 30 to 35 people tonight. We also distributed cold water, the clothing I already mentioned, some boots, and some toiletries. When we finished helping the last man the shelter had already been open for 10 minutes. We left around 7:10.
Please pray for, and care for, the poor.
This evening proved to be another busy day out on the street. Volunteering tonight were Barb, Jens, Pastor Mike and myself (Karen). The sun was blazing down when we arrived and there was no shade to be found, in the winter months we can use the van to provide a barrier to the weather but there is no evading the hot sun. We were grateful for the clouds that arrived and buffered the sun's rays.
There were many, many visitors to the van this evening. I believe we served 50 + people, some simply wanted cold water and others took the bags as well as the water and juice. There were people waiting for us when we arrived a little before 5:30 pm and we were busy until 7:00pm, a steady flow of people in need.
Along with the many people we saw, there were many stories we heard. I overheard a long term person saying that because of his chronic illness, his medical bills were reaching a quarter of a million dollars and he lamented that he'd never get out from under those bills or have what he would consider a normal life. A woman shared to him that she had nothing but what she was carrying and didn't believe that she'd ever have anything beyond that. I thought about their conversation and thought how fortunate most of us are and how much emphasis is put on "things". I've learned a lot from the people on the street about wants vs. needs.
Another long term person shared that the man we refer to as the white supremacist had been beaten in an altercation by two other people. The police had not been involved and our understanding was that no one went to the hospital. It is dangerous to take the law into your own hands, I hope they will all be safe.
Shortly before we left, a woman who we had visited with early in the evening returned to talk to us. She wanted to inform us that a gentleman who is usually with the regulars was not there. It is of concern because he is in a wheelchair and quite vulnerable. I have always found it both fascinating and comforting to know that while there are many people wandering the streets, they look out for each others health and wellness and will advocate for one another if needed. It seems to me that it would be completely understandable if they were looking out only for themselves and just be selfish but that is not how it works. They have their own network and use it effectively to care for one another.
We received a pair of 5x shorts and two shirts to fit the larger man on the street, please know that he was very grateful to receive those items. Thank you so very much!
Thank you for your ongoing support of the Street Ministry. Please continue to pray for our street family, they're very special people!
On Tuesday, I wrote about a spunky little lady that we encountered who would be undergoing hip surgery this week. I went to visit her at the hospital and wanted to write an update on her status. Her surgery went well and she is pleased with the outcome, she's been up sitting in a recliner and has been able to ambulate with the use of her walker. Of course there's some pain but that is being managed. As I mentioned in Tuesday's journal, she was concerned about being discharged directly back to her home, which in the most recent past she has been unable to get into due to mobility issues and reports having been staying in her storage shed. She advocated for herself with the hospital staff and will definitely be going to a rehab center, though she does not know which one as of yet. While I assumed that she wouldn't be sent directly home, stranger things have happened to our street people!
While our visit wasn't long, this tough little lady shared some of her history with me. She talked about being a part of demonstrations and riots, even while pregnant during the mid 1960's. She talked about being in Chicago, being in Milwaukee and a few other places. She's got quite a staunch political view on the world and was not shy in sharing her opinions.
We discussed what will happen when she completes her rehab, that eventually she'll return home which means she's facing the constant struggle of getting up the few steps into her trailer with her walker. Once she gets into the trailer she says she can maneuver around safely but she is unsafe getting up and down the steps, there just isn't room for the walker, which she relies on for her safety. She admitted that sleeping in the shed may continue to be a possibility simply because of the steps. She agreed that ideally she would have a ramp, I don't know if that's a financial possibility for her or not. Our visit was cut short when a physical therapist arrived, she shook my hand and said that it was time for her to get to work.
I'm so happy that her surgery went well and I pray for a full recovery for her. I admit that I'll kind of miss seeing her shuffling down the street with her wheeled walker, maybe her odd gait will have been repaired through the hip repair, although she said she'd been walking "like a duck" for so long that she didn't know anything else. I'm grateful for the opportunity to have met this kind woman.