Chippewa Valley Street Ministry Journal - February 16, 2021
It's been a long year already for the people we serve and it's only the last week of February. We've spent the majority of the last few weeks providing care in order to keep people safe from the cold. We hope that you and yours have maintained safety.
Our street ministry knows how difficult it has been to observe our homeless and working poor friends suffer year after year. Our area of the state has been ranked as one of the poorest areas in the state prior to the Pandemic and with Covid19 likely pushed the poverty index in Southern Chippewa and Eau Claire counties even higher. Our homeless population has more than doubled, the local homeless shelter has been stretched to its limits. Mental health issues, families living out of their vehicle and domestic violence have been on the rise in 2020/21. This long winter started at the beginning of October with 6 inches of snow, and the recent Polar Vortex inflicted temperatures/wind chills this past weekend of 40, 35 and 25 below zero. The Pandemic and long winter has affected both housed and homeless people alike, we are all tired and looking for relief.
Last week, a woman we have known for several years asked for help to find shelter. She has been living outdoors in all seasons and by the end of the sub zero stretch we just went through, she was exhausted. While we were able to get her to safety, we remain concerned about her. She clearly has severe mental health concerns and we were reminded again after our efforts that services to assist her with these issues are limited. Systems are in place to both help and protect the rights of the people in need, but oftentimes obtaining access to those systems is too difficult for the very people they're intended to help, making treatment unattainable. In this region, mental health services have long been difficult to access. This continues through Covid-19; the need is greater than there are available providers. During Covid-19, those who are fortunate to have services may be required to use phone or video means for their appointments, the people we serve would likely be unable to access these means. Wait times for in-person appointments are lengthy, when available. The woman we were with was looking for services but didn't qualify for emergency services but is not stable enough to follow through with an appointment made for several weeks or months into the future. It is frustrating to not be able to do more for her and it's also true for many of our homeless friends that suffer from mental illness.
We've seen some damage from the recent cold weather, one individual we regularly talk with had frostbite on one of his feet and was in the hospital for a short period. He was discharged back to the elements and is having complications: the wound has broken open and he is fearful of infection or worse. He has returned to the hospital for further treatment.
One of our homeless friends alerted us that they noticed a woman had been living in her vehicle and they thought with the frigid weather that we should check on her welfare. After having a conversation with this person, we found out that she had just arrived here in the area from another county and was looking for shelter but did not know where the homeless shelter was. She was severely undressed for the weather and her vehicle's heater didn't work. We were fortunate enough to come across a person who worked for Sojourner that happened to be in the area and she was able to follow him to the Sojourner shelter and find relief, food and cover from the cold.
We were very concerned about the weather last week and collaborated with Sojourner's house to open the downtown shelter for a short period of time. This provided an option for a number of people to get out of the cold air and avoid cold injuries, including hypothermia. While the cold air was dangerous over the last few weeks, it is important to remember that hypothermia can occur at temperatures even in the 40-degree range. There's a lot of time left this season for injuries.
Thank you for all of your support and donations. Please keep the people served through your generosity in your thoughts and prayers. Be safe and peace to all.
- Chippewa Valley Street Ministry Staff
Isolation, Loneliness, Restlessness
Chippewa Valley Street Ministry Journal February 5, 2021 - Random thoughts and Reflections
2020 was a tough year on the street for our homeless/street friends: nine of them unfortunately passed away during the year with one death due to weather related causes. We have heard there may have been more but these folks are ones that the street ministry was able to document. Two of those we lost were veterans trying to deal with PTSD. When veterans return from tours of duty, some may have been physically or psychologically damaged. These particular vets are oftentimes invisible to the public and more than a few of them end up homeless. Without treatment, tragedy can follow. So far this year, the street ministry has also documented one more death.
2020 will be remembered as the year of Covid-19. 40+ of our friends that were in shelter tested positive for Covid-19, along with many of the staff that either tested positive or had to quarantine. Some staff had to quarantine twice which was very difficult for them psychologically and financially. Covid had a big impact on our society as a whole, but it's effect with people that already had mental health issues has been huge! Please keep all these souls in your thoughts and prayers.
Mike - Street Pastor CVSM
Chippewa Valley Street Ministry Journal, 02-05-2021 cont.
The weather is definitely the topic of our concern. As you likely know, we’re expecting a frigid weekend as well as into the next week and beyond. In fact, the street ministry has declared this a weather emergency until the end of the month as the temperatures will be dangerous for the people we serve. Actual temperatures are forecasted to be sub-zero with wind chills in the -30° range. Depending on the temperature and windchill, frostbite can occur within 5-10 minutes and for those sleeping outdoors, the risk of hypothermia has been and is a concern in all winter temperatures. We are working with the people we serve to come up with any possible solutions to ensure their safety. As I write this in the warm comfort of my home, I once again realize the privilege of housing that I often take for granted and that not everyone in our community shares. Because of the weather, the local shelter has expanded its facilities and is open to anyone that can access their location. But some of our street friends for their own reasons have decided to tough it out through this brutal weather time. We are, because of this fact, doing twice a night safety checks for those living in the elements.
We spoke with a gentleman that we have known for a while and he looked physically and emotionally worn out. He normally has a dog with him and has made it very clear that the dog is family and his support. Another person asked us to assess him for needs as there was concern in the group of this person’s wellbeing. We offered a blanket and sleeping bag, warm weather gear and multiple other measures of comfort. The man declined everything and made little eye contact with us. When asked if his dog needed anything, he stated that his dog had been hit by a car. That event seemed catastrophic to the man and the physical impairments he has appeared amplified. He offered little else but was visibly upset talking about his loss. In times such as these, no “thing” we offered would bring back what he had lost. At a subsequent visit, the man did accept a sleeping bag. We are unsure of where he settles for the night though we know he has been living on the river's edge for over a decade.
Blessings to you all, thank you for your support of the ministry and those we serve.
Karen - Social Worker/Nurse