We were out on the street on Monday of this week instead of Tuesday due to the holiday. We shared holiday treats and heard many "Merry Christmas!" as our guests departed. With the more temperate weather, our visitors stayed to talk longer. Christmas lights were blinking, special events around the city were occurring and holiday plans were finalized. It is an important time of year spiritually and it provides time for loved ones to join together.
Volunteer Lynn and her daughter Rori providing a Christmas treat.
Not all emotions displayed this evening were that of joy. Whether this was due to the situation of being homeless or due to the holidays or a combination of many things, we don't know. We offered stamped postcards for people to send to a loved one and more than once I heard statements from people such as "Thank you, but no one cares enough to want to hear from me" or "I don't have anyone to send one to." I watched a woman approach Wendy with a smile but ultimately fall into Wendy's arms, crying, and saying that "they" didn't want her around at the holiday; I assumed she was referring to family. Many of us have solid natural support systems of friends and family and perhaps take those people for granted. Hearing these statements made us feel a little bit of the loneliness and isolation that some people experience.
While out on Monday, we provided coats and hoodies, boots and gloves. We spent time talking to people who shared their stories of looking for work and how that process was made more difficult due to a chronic medical condition. We talked with a man who wanted to work but needed guidance for obtaining a replacement social security card. We heard from a woman that is fighting an alcohol condition that has burdened her for years.
We believe that our presence on the street provides some warmth and sense of belonging to the people we serve, especially during the holidays. It is a privilege to hear their stories and to support them on their journey. It is a privilege, as well, to have your interest and support of the people we serve as well the ministry. Together, we make a difference.
We hope you had a Merry Christmas and we look forward to the New Year. Please contact us with questions!
Karen - Social Worker/Nurse
Chippewa Valley Street Ministry Journal, December 6, 2019
Out on the street tonight were Chuck, Larry, Barb, Cat, Brent, Pastor Mike and me. The air was damp with little to no wind yet by the end of the evening, we were chilled. For the people who are still sleeping outdoors, this is just the beginning of a long, cold winter that has potential dire consequences for the people we serve.
We were aware before heading out that there was a parade and other festivities scheduled. Community members happily passed us on the way to the events; a few chatted to learn who we are and what we do. Before long, fireworks began and our eyes turned to the sky for a short time. Our visitors continued to come to us, some seemingly completely unaware of the fireworks overhead. We quickly noted the stark difference between the community members that had previously strolled by and those community members who were coming to visit with us on their way for their evening meal and shelter. The moods and facial expressions were unequal. Their gaits were different, their conversations were contrasting. We don't find fault with those who enjoyed the events but simply want to bring this situation up. As we go through this holiday season, it is important to remember those who struggle and need our help.
The coming week will be very cold for a few days. We are concerned about the health and safety of the people we serve due to the dangers of the cold weather. Frostbite is a very real threat with the actual temperature as well as with the wind chill. People are sleeping outside and it is unacceptable; we are grateful that a warming center will be opening soon to provide for some safety.
We can use your donations to get our rural ministry off to a good start, please check the needs list for needed items. We have been serving some of the most impoverished areas in the county and are in need of coats, thermals, and other various items. Additionally, financial donations are needed for both the street and rural ministries and we will be needing to replace at least one of the vans within the next twelve months. One of the vans is driven many hours a day as we assist in food collection and redistribution among the people we serve as well as the working poor in our area. This is in addition to the daily street and rural ministry work.
Barb and visitor
Please keep the people we serve in your thoughts and prayers. Thank you, as always, for your interest and support. Stay safe and warm!
Social Worker/ Nurse
Chippewa Valley Street Ministry Journals - December 10 and 13, 2019
Last night was bitterly cold. As volunteers we have the means to dress warmly and we can and do provide warmer clothing to those on the street. However, what affected me more than the issues with our Wisconsin weather was the loneliness and despair that face the homeless. We listened to one woman that had come from another city. She had left a difficult situation in hopes of finding better resources in Eau Claire. Unfortunately, she is struggling here and kept saying over and over “I am alone”. She did not feel she had anyone to turn to and she, like many other single women on the street, are alone. They have to be so careful who they connect with for their safety is a primary concern. I have come to feel that our mission as volunteers is to let the homeless know we are there for them, to build relationship, to encourage them to make good choices, and to help them through the loneliness of life as best we can. Please keep us in your prayers.
Chippewa Valley Street Ministry Journal, 12-13-2019
Serving this evening were Marge, Cat, Barb, Brent, Larry, Chuck, Lynn and myself. It was clear and chilly but that's to be expected. We served nearly forty people, many who asked for thermals or coats. We were able to provide one gentleman with some 5X-6X clothing but unfortunately, we did not have a coat in his size to give him. These sizes are difficult to come by. If you have access to coats and clothing in this size, please think of the Street Ministry when you are ready to donate them.
Visitor trying on a coat
Visitor choosing treats and other items
The sidewalks that border the parking lot where we set up had not been shoveled yet. We watched people shuffle through the new snow that had fallen earlier in the day, many wore boots but others were wearing sneakers that were now wet and not warm. We had boots available for several people and they graciously sat down on a chair to try them on before taking them; it never ceases to amaze me how people who are in such great need want to be sure they're not taking an item that someone else might need. One visitor asked if he could take over shoveling for Chuck, he was grateful to feel appreciated and have purpose, and we appreciated the help.
This visitor requested to help shovel the sidewalk.
We spoke with people who were concerned that there were too many people needing to stay in the shelter and they anticipated that they'd be staying outdoors. We provided blankets and watched them go to the shelter in hopes of getting a bed. We anticipate the warming shelter opening in a few days, the degree of safety from the weather that will be provided is invaluable.
We set out nutritious food as well as treats and other necessities.
Thank you for your support, prayers and interest. Please look at our needs list and help us continue to do our work. We appreciate you!
Chippewa Valley Street Ministry Journal Special Edition - "Understanding Incarceration"
The Street Ministry has long been supportive of individuals that are incarcerated in both local jails as well as prisons across the state. We visit with people that we have known while on the street and have also been connected through chaplains and jail staff. We believe that regardless of the charges or convictions, each person deserves to be treated with dignity and respect. Each person is someone's son or daughter, father or mother or brother or sister. They are all someone.
We're including a essay from a woman we've known for several years who is currently in jail. She has a message to share:
"I think the biggest reason the system doesn't work for a lot of people is that it's only punitive and not rehabilitative.
I think that there are a small number of first time criminals that are scared straight by their first jail experience. And they can and do change and continue to live healthy, functional lives.
But the vast majority of us have mental health issues, troubled thinking patterns, addictions. We have lived like this for so long that we don't know how to change., even if we wanted to we're not capable of turning our lives around when left to our own devices, knowing that a lot of us feel it isn't worth the effort to try. Despite how we want to live "normal" lives we have repeatedly seen ourselves and others fail miserably and become convinced it's just not possible for people like us.
I understand that a lot of county jails don't have the funding and resources to implement extra programming, groups and classes for every inmate. And it's hard to put the responsibility of where/who that money should come from. It shouldn't be the functioning citizens burden to pay for the "fuck-ups."
Another huge impediment to success is not being able to adequately plan for release. Its hard for inmates to reach the outside world. Even more so for inmates who are indigent or without outside support -- those who need it most. We need more help with release: housing, jobs, employment, etc. But again, the resources are limited.
I know those two points would be the most beneficial to helping us learn to live our lives as a lot of us want to but for these reasons, can't."
Many of the jails and prisons in the area have private communication, commissary and healthcare systems in place which creates even more challenges for the indigent people to receive services. Its expensive to go to jail: money must be spent for access to medical care, mental health care and communication with the outside world for various purposes. While the fee may seem nominal: $5 for medicine or $20 for a phone card, for some people, those fee's might as well be hundred or thousands of dollars as they simply don't have access to any money. We do not accept the collect calls from a correctional setting as the connection fee is upwards of $20 and then its additional money per minute afterwards. Sometimes jobs and/or housing are lost and medical care is not routine. Once an inmate is returned to the outside world, they may have to start over with the restrictions of probation on their daily routines.
You may suggest that the person shouldn't do the crime if they don't want to do the time. There is some reasoning to that but due to various reasons such as mental health issues, poverty or addictions, an individual may make choices and be stuck in a negative cycle that repeatedly lands them in a correctional setting. This doesn't just effect the inmate but also the family who may be struggling financially and is giving much needed money to the privatized system.
Regardless of the situation, the cost of incarceration is expensive to all involved, whether the inmate, the family, the institution, and the community.
Mike - Street Pastor
Chippewa Valley Street Ministry
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