Chippewa Valley Street Ministry Journal - August 29, 2022
Anyone who has spent time in downtown Eau Claire would notice there are 6 major building projects going on at this time; this is happening in an area that is considered one of the poorest counties in the state of Wisconsin. The Alice report, a lengthy and well documented report originating out of Madison, describes the level of poverty in the state of Wisconsin. Prior to the pandemic, per the Alice report, southern Chippewa and Eau Claire counties were considered the 2nd poorest counties in the state of Wisconsin after Milwaukee county. Poverty can be invisible if we allow it to be: in this county alone, we have hundreds of homeless people. The school district has at least 300 homeless children enrolled. Over the last several months, the street ministry has been receiving calls from community members to do welfare checks for children in town that are panhandling alone in their neighborhood. There are mothers with children -- even some with babies in their arms -- who have been seen soliciting help. When life starts by being born into poverty, the struggle begins the very day you are born; the challenge begins that very moment. For those living in poverty, the building projects do not bring excitement or benefit but rather reminders of what is likely unachievable.
Homeless man resting at a local park
Poverty affects individuals and families in more ways than just financially -- physical and mental health, nutrition, and transportation, for example, are all altered by poverty. The street ministry is constantly assessing the general health of the homeless community. We have seen on average around 12 people die each year for a variety of reasons. Several of our homeless veterans and others homeless have committed suicide; some of the homeless have died because of drug overdoses. We very often see people who have chronic conditions that cannot afford their medication to treat chronic conditions: emphysema, cardiac disorders, diabetes, and mental health conditions, for example.
A sign that one of our homeless friends made.
The street ministry has spent time in the rural and impoverished areas of the county over the last several years. We worked with a family that lived in a wooded area that had three teenage children at home; they lived in a one room cabin without running water and had only a generator to provide some electricity. The teenage daughter bathed in the river. Everyone in the family trapped small animals for their hides to bring money into the home. They did utilize benefits available to them but benefits alone are difficult to support an entire family.
Limited power for this cabin. Heated with firewood and had no running water.
These are a few of the traps used to trap small animals for hides.
We reached out to a partnering agency, Feed My People, to talk about the area's poverty. We're including the response we received:
"Inflation is difficult for all of us right now. We are all filling up our cars with gas and going to the grocery store. Now imagine that a year ago you were already spending 100% of your income to feed your kids and pay the rent. How are you surviving now? At Feed My People we have seen an over 150% increase in the number of people coming to our Pop-Up distributions – many coming for the first time. We did a survey with our guests asking how inflation was affecting their families. They responded with comments like:
“I have maintained the same income but am unable to pay my basic bills. My propane has become almost out of budget and food has become much more of a luxury.”
“Makes it hard to be able to provide meals for my family. Have to choose between groceries and bills.”
“Paying bills first - feeding ourselves comes last. Trying to help our daughter and grandchild.”
“On a very limited income. Groceries are beyond affordable and with having type 2 diabetes now I have to eat stuff I’m not supposed to because of the price.”
Feed My People is trying as much as possible to fill the gap for folks but we can’t do it without our partners. Now more than ever the work that organizations are doing, like the Chippewa Valley Street Ministry, are critical to helping our neighbors get through this difficult time."
- Suzanne Becker/Director of Feed my People
The street ministry believes the city and county governments as well as area churches and the university need to work together to refocus their attention on our sisters and brothers locally who are suffering the extreme effects of poverty.
Please keep those suffering in poverty in your thoughts and prayers and do what you can to reverse the continuation of poverty, whether that means advocating for change or working with the poor to ensure they are on the right track to move upward and out of the patterns of poverty. There needs to be systemic change for the cycle of poverty to be changed.
“Poverty is not created by poor people.
It is created by the system we have built,
the institutions we have designed
the policies & laws we created”
– Prof Muhammad Yunus
(Bangladeshi social entrepreneur, banker, economist and
civil society leader who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize)
- CVSM Staff