Chippewa Valley Street Ministry Journal Friday, January 27, 2017
I arrived at 5:37pm just as the vans were being parked. Brent, Brian, Jake, Larry, Michelle, Mike, and I were the volunteers. The temperature was in the mid to low 20s with a bit of a breeze.
We had about 35 visitors, and gloves were the biggest request--we handed out several pairs as well as hats, socks, some long underwear, a pair of winter boots for a young woman who only had tennis shoes with no laces, and a bicycle for a man whose car had died. Of course we also distributed the usual food, juice, and water bottles, and had available our table of pastries.
We talked with BF for quite a while. The good news is that he may have housing soon, but he is waiting on some paperwork. We hope he is off the street soon.
By far the most common topic of conversation was staying out of the cold. Recently the shelter has been so full that it has turned away people, and several of the homeless were worried about a possible night outside in below freezing conditions.
We packed up at around 7pm, but then reopened the back of the van to put together a bag for a young man who arrived just as we were starting to leave.
Please pray for, and care for, the poor.
Chippewa Valley Street Ministry Journal, Jan. 20, 2017
Out on the street this evening were Brent, Pastor Mike, Larry, Chuck, Brian and myself. We served about 20 people, the weather was very tolerable compared to the icy coldness of the last few weeks.
Our time on the street seemed unusual to me as there was only one woman that came to visit. I believe we've mentioned the decrease in women visiting with us in previous journals. While I'm hoping that housing or safe shelter has been obtained, I still have concerns about many of the women we've gotten to know. We suspect that many of the women are "couch surfing", or, finding places to stay temporarily and moving on to another temporary situation. Being a woman on the streets brings increased risk for personal safety: according to one study, 1/3 of women who had lived on the streets in Los Angeles had experienced violence while on the street (http://journals.sagepub.com/…/abs/10.1177/088626001016008001). While we don't have the numbers of people that Los Angeles has, we have spoken with many women who report having to compromise their safety to get their basic needs met or women who have reported domestic violence or rape. We've accompanied women to the ER and supported them while making police reports. We inquire about each woman's safety when we visit with them and take appropriate action as needed.
We're seeing many newcomers to the street, this is also concerning. Because of the increased numbers of new people staying at the shelter, some of our regulars are occasionally being excluded due to the shelter policy. One of those people is the older man I've mentioned before who had knee surgery recently. He maneuvers through the city with his walker and tries to keep his spirits up. He believes he is in line for an apartment soon but hesitates to get his hopes up too high.
One of the men that came to us was from St. Paul. He had come to Eau Claire and his ride had left him here. He had no money and no way to return to Minnesota. We equipped him with gloves and other necessities. After listening to his story and learning that he had a home and stability, it was decided that the Street Ministry would help him home by getting a one-way bus ticket the next day. The gentleman did not ever ask for this, he had no way of knowing that it was even an option. We assess each situation and use our experience and instinct to direct us to what we can do for each person. We would rather provide means to get someone off of the street than to have him linger out there, especially if there is a home to go to.
Please share our journals and our mission with friends and family. Its important to educate others not just in what the Street Ministry does but why we do what we do and the numbers in the community that are in need. The populations we serve are often misunderstood, sharing their stories and advocating for the people we serve will help in the overall education of those who may not be fully informed.
As always, thank you for your support and interest!
-Karen - Street Nurse
Chippewa Valley Street Ministry Journal, Friday, January 13, 2017
I was running a bit late tonight and arrived just before 6pm. Brent, Brian, Chuck, Karen, Larry, Michelle, and Mike were already helping people. It was another cold evening, 5 degrees above zero, but thankfully there was little or no wind.
Right after I arrived our friend the Chicago Bears fan did as well. We see him a lot so I'll call him BF just to make writing easier. (Not that he would mind being called the Bears fan; he and Brian are often exchanging good- natured Bears-Packers jibes.) BF has some sort of health problems--I'm not sure what. He told us about conditions in the shelter--a few nights earlier there were not enough beds and another homeless man gave up his so that BF could have one. BF was very grateful. Mike gave BF a Bears stocking cap.
We outfitted several men with gloves and warm socks and gave one a pair of heavy overalls to wear over his pants in the cold. He had asked for snow pants, but this was all we had and he seemed pleased. We also wrote down several requests for boots.
A man whom we had helped a few times before came and talked with us. His car was about 2-1/2 blocks away and wouldn't start. Larry had jumper cables and drove to help him. We had some good news--a man had an interview for a job helping at a store loading dock and was very happy. I hope he gets the job!
We hadn't heard from Larry for about half an hour so I walked down to check how things were going with the disabled car. I found the two cars hooked together with jumper cables. The engine would turn over but wouldn't start. The back seat of the man's car had several plastic shopping bags--probably most of his possessions. We found that one of his battery cables was loose and tightened it, but the car still wouldn't start, even after charging the battery for several more minutes. We pondered the possibilities--perhaps a frozen fuel line?--but at night in 5 degree weather and with few tools there was little we could do. The man said that his car had been there for a day and a half and was worried it would be towed. We then considered pushing it across the street to a parking lot, but that meant pushing it through a somewhat busy intersection. I walked back to the municipal parking lot to see if there were more people to help with the pushing. It was around 7pm and people were packing up. I returned with Mike, Brent, and Karen. Larry stayed with the man; their cars were still connected with jumper cables. The man had contacted a friend who had access to towing facilities, however, and decided that he didn't need us to push the car. He had a 90 minute waitand decided to stay in the warmth of the nearby bus station.
I left for home at around 7:25. I didn't get a count of how many we helped, but Mike told be it was about 20.
Update: while I was typing this up I received an email from Mike. Mike, Brent, and Karen had unloaded the vans and then Mike checked back on our friend. The tow truck had just arrived. Mike stayed until the car was being hooked up to the tow truck and then left.
Please pray for, and care for, the poor.
We hope you had a blessed Christmas season and best wishes for a Happy New Year! Throughout the holidays, the Street Ministry continued in service to those less fortunate. We look forward to meeting and working with you to provide the best care to our brothers and sisters in need.
Chippewa Valley Street Ministry Journal Friday, January 6, 2017
(Note: Chippewa Valley Street Ministry is the new name of Plymouth Street Ministry--the name was changed to reflect that our volunteers come from many churches and also UW-Eau Claire in addition to Plymouth UCC. I've finally changed the name of my journal entries to reflect the new name.)
It was zero degrees Fahrenheit and dropping at 5:20pm when I arrived at the municipal parking lot on Barstow Street where the Chippewa Valley Street Ministry meets. We choose to meet in the municipal parking lot for several reasons. First, it is located right across the street from Sojourner House, the largest homeless shelter in the area. It is easy for those we serve to find us there. A few of the homeless staying in the shelter have cars
and often park in that same parking lot. Second, we want to be on the street. It is part of our philosophy to be with the people we serve. Listening to people's stories is an important part of our ministry, and I think that they tell us much more if we are on the street--on their territory--than if we were in an imposing office or church building. Third, when we are out there we show solidarity with the homeless. Although we are out in the elements for only a short period of time each week and many of the homeless are out there much of the week, that short time helps us remember the struggles of those we serve. We are often thanked by homeless folks for simply being out there with them.
Barb, Brent, Brian, Chuck, Jake, Larry, Michelle, and Mike all arrived soon after I did, with Brent and Mike each driving one of the two Street Ministry vans. One of the vans contains the supplies we give to everyone who wants them--bags of food, bottles of water (even in winter people on the street are often dehydrated), juice, hand warmers, and tonight, small packages of beef jerky. Most of our food is donated, so the items vary from evening to evening. The other van contains coats, hats, gloves, other clothing, backpacks, and other supplies. It's hard for us to guess what items and sizes will be needed on a particular night, so for some items, especially shoes, we usually take people's first names, requests, and sizes and try to bring them the next time we are out. We are regularly out on Tuesday and Friday evenings. In between the two vans we set up a folding table with donated sweets or pastries--tonight, they were small bags of Christmas cookies.
As we got started, Mike, our street pastor, gave us a briefing: he told us who, of the people we regularly serve, had special needs tonight and what we should be especially on the lookout for. There was a slight breeze--the flag in front of the nearby YMCA alternated between gently waving and lying limp--but thankfully the wind never got strong. Since it was so cold, we didn't expect many visitors. Usually the homeless wait in any warm building they can on such nights and only venture out when the shelter is about to open, which is usually 7pm. We were surprised by the number, however, and had a fairly steady stream of visitors from 5:30 until 7. We served about 20 people, and gave out at least three badly needed winter coats as well as hats, gloves, and other winter gear.
Sojourner House shelter opened early tonight, so most of our visitors didn't stay long. Usually I hear several interesting stories--often heart-breaking but sometimes very uplifting--but tonight most of the conversations were short. Brian (who was wearing a Green Bay Packers coat) and I chatted football with our local Bears fan, who, despite having been homeless for quite some time, is always in good spirits, and with two men who were from Minnesota. One of our volunteers had a car issue and I left briefly on an errand to get it solved, so I missed about 15 minutes of conversation. When we packed up at 7, the temperature had dropped to five below zero.
As I type this up in my warm house with a cup of hot cocoa, I am reminded how fortunate I am. In my religious tradition, today is Epiphany, and it commemorates the arrival of the Magi bringing gifts for the Christ child. Epiphany is a revealing--the divine nature of the Christ child was revealed to the Magi. Jesus wrote that whenever we help the poor or hungry or thirsty, we are helping him directly. I'll admit that I'm not very good at it, but my spiritual discipline is to try to see every poor person as Jesus, as God being revealed to me. Tonight a homeless man told Brian that we were a blessing to him. Brian replied that he (the homeless man) was an even greater blessing to us. I feel the same way.
Please pray for, and care for, the poor.