Chippewa Valley Street Ministry Journal - July 20, 2021
There is much to talk about and as hard as we try, it's hard to produce a positive report for you. The people we serve are struggling day after day and it seems that as much as we all try to help them, their situations don’t change – often through no fault of their own. Systems are difficult to navigate, barriers upon barriers exist. The homeless are affected by the decisions and policies made for them by people who haven't walked in their shoes -- people with options, people with resources, people with privilege.
When we are out on the street, we talk to dozens of people who stop by for food, water, or clothing, or simply to have a conversation. Several people have told us that they are tired. They are tired of having nowhere to go during the day. They are tired of being out in the elements, many are sunburned and the rain last week made a difficult situation even harder to bear. They are tired of the danger they are in by being vulnerable to others. We've noted in our last journals that we're regularly told there's simply no place to go, no easily accessible bathrooms, no water. The street ministry has been providing water up to three times a day to keep people hydrated and have made nightly safety checks every night for the past three years. Our presence provides for many needs but not for bathroom use. Those needing to utilize the shelter are stuck in a cycle and have little chance to get out of it.
Nowhere to go to stay dry.
During the pandemic, there were 100+ people staying at the remote homeless shelter, some of whom were not necessarily in need of shelter but participated in what would be considered criminalistic behavior at the shelter location. This criminal behavior involved sex trafficking and drug dealing. When the shelter relocated, this criminal activity followed the shelter downtown. These behaviors are a threat to the homeless guests and staff and puts them in harm's way. The street ministry is assisting with these safety issues and looking at ways to address this concern.
We have heard that there are drugs being cut with other substances making an already dangerous behavior even more dangerous. While we don’t necessarily condone the behavior, we are realistic that it occurs and do not want additional harm to come to anyone. There has been suspicion of bath salts being cut into the various drugs used and the effects from this have been terrifying for several of our brothers and sisters to experience and/or observe. This community also experienced some poisoned heroin being distributed which resulted in death for a number of people early last year. We were alerted to this tragedy and did alert our street and homeless friends as well as city officials but more than a few young people died as a result, some were friends of the street ministry's and we mourn their passing.
The reality of their vulnerability and their potential future was made more evident to many of our older population when the woman passed away on the bench on Barstow St. We have heard comments from a few people that they will be the next person to die on a bench. This weighs heavily on our hearts and minds as we want no harm to come to anyone but what can be done? The hope that we try to have and give out is in short supply these days.
We met a man who cannot eat much of the food we provide because he is diabetic. He reports that he is being tested for liver cancer and he is concerned as he had experienced a form of cancer several years ago. He is in need of clothing and shoes that we did not have in stock in the clothing van but will provide upon our return next week. While he is new to living in a city, he has learned to navigate the bus system and can get to his appointments as they are scheduled. He is someone we will be checking on regularly to ensure his safety. We will also invest in some diabetic-friendly food for him.
We are aware of the increase in Covid cases and hope that not only the people we serve will be safe but also all of you. Our visitors are often in close quarters with one another, increasing their risk to infection. We talk about the risk and encourage distancing. We had relaxed our mask requirements but to keep everyone safe, we will return to the use of masks if it is deemed appropriate.
Thank you for your support of the ministry. Because of your donations, we are able to provide necessary items to the people in need living without permanent shelter. Please keep the people we serve in your thoughts and prayers.
Blessings to all!
Street Ministry Staff
Chippewa Valley Street Ministry Journal July 26, 2021
The heat and dryness of the last several days are wearing people down. With few to no places to go into from the elements, they are being sunburned and at risk for dehydration. Volunteers continue to go out several times a day to offer water, Gatorade and food to those without shelter. The street ministry also leaves several cases of water outside of the shelter to try and help keep people hydrated.
With the news of the Covid Delta variant being dangerous and easily transmissible, we are concerned there is not a known effort in progress to vaccinate the homeless population that has not been previously vaccinated, which could be a considerable amount of people. Because the homeless occupy a much smaller shelter than when they were at the alternate shelter, their vulnerability has increased greatly. At the larger, temporary shelter, there were 40+ cases of Covid. People could be quarantined when necessary; that is not likely to be an available option at the current, permanent shelter. And because there is nowhere for people to go during the day, someone who is positive but symptom free may wander throughout the community, unintentionally exposing others. We have a number of homeless individuals that are not sheltered that may want vaccinations that don't have access to media or other ways to find out about getting vaccinated. We are hoping for the best, of course, but it is important to remember that the invisible ones need to be taken care of as well. Acting early can only be beneficial.
Our homeless friends' fate is dependent on those in charge to make the right decision and in a timely manner.
Some of the people we serve smoke cigarettes and have done so for most of their lives. People often ask how they can afford the cost. Some of our homeless friends go around town sniping: they pick up discarded cigarettes and smoke the remaining butt or use whatever contents are left to create a new cigarette. The practice is risky as disease from saliva can be transmitted which could be deadly depending on what is being transmitted. Can the new Covid variant be transmitted through the saliva droplets left on a butt? Vaccines would decrease the chance of an infection.
Cigarette butts collected by one of our homeless friends.
On a positive note, a woman approached us to show her sobriety medallion. She described her efforts and her pride was evident. She's struggled with addictions but has put in years of effort to be where she's at now.
Homeless women's Medallion
Medallion received for one year's sobriety.
We are ever-grateful for your interest and support of the street ministry and the fragile population we serve. Please continue to keep those we serve in your thoughts and prayers. Thank you!
Chippewa Valley Street Ministry Journal Notes, July 7, 2021 "The three women on Barstow St."
June 19, 2012 was the first visit on the street for what is now known as Chippewa Valley Street Ministry. Three individuals who shared a vehicle and a cooler left Plymouth United Church of Christ parking lot on that day and the street ministry began. It has been a journey where we've shared joys, tears, empathy and advocacy for our brothers and sisters living without permanent shelter. We've made many connections and have grown more than we'd ever imagined. Because of the generosity of organizations and individuals, we've accomplished all our work with donations alone. We've shared our stories with you to give light to the dim situation on the streets. Today is no different.
We're including the very first journal of the ministry and invite you to read it:
June 19, 2012
Hey Folks, Thanks for coming out last night. It was no small thing you did working with the people at the base or the so-called underbelly of our society. Discovering the Elderly woman hunched over against a building on So. Barstow St., as Pastor Dave stated "may have saved her life". She was very dehydrated and had other physical problems and should have been in the hospital. The fact that she didn't want to be touched may be an indication that she has been abused in her past. She also seemed somewhat delusional and disoriented and may have some mental impairment. She certainly has been abandoned by society. I know the Police Officer was grateful that she was discovered. She had been in his zone of influence for over 24 hours and he didn't even know she was there. How many other people must have walked by her in that 24-hour period going to work, a restaurant or other forms of entertainment and basically were unable to find enough compassion to go to her aid? Someone gave her some money to their credit, but they also moved on......."
Fast forward to 2019 in which we worked with another woman who was sitting on a bench on Barstow Street. Our journal from 10-02-2019 contained the following regarding a woman who spent a great deal of her time on the benches on Barstow:
"... it is safe to suggest that there are areas on both of her feet that have deteriorated significantly and may not heal. The odor was horrendous, the flies were no better. I'm not sure she can feel pain due to the damage but she does admit that walking is difficult. We assisted in getting her medical care and will be checking in with her.
This is happening in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. People are still sleeping outside. Who else is suffering like this woman is? No one should be hungry. No one should be homeless if they want a home. No one should be without hope.
While charity is appreciated it is not a long-term solution; this is a justice issue.. We need a bigger safety net to catch people who are free-falling to the point that they simply cannot help themselves. Poverty, and the causes of poverty, need to be addressed. There are too many people suffering now, and in time and if we continue on the same path, that number will only grow..."
The woman was admitted to a hospital and was subsequently transferred to a hospice in another community where she finally had a clean bed and much needed care at the end of her life. One, and possibly both, of her feet had been gangrenous while she sat on the bench and people passed by her.
Again, fast forward to June 2021 and our last journal which includes the following:
"... this woman who had died on that bench. We're saddened by the fact that she had laid there for several days without receiving treatment and laid there for a few hours prior to the call being made to request help for her."
Three women over the course of nine years have been out in the elements on Barstow Street and have suffered physically in part to a mental illness. Perhaps these women settled on Barstow because of the activity in hopes of having human contact with others. Perhaps the familiarity of the street provided comfort to them. There's no way to know or understand what they were going through. In nine years or more, what has changed to keep people safe when they are so vulnerable?
The street ministry has no solutions. We provide basic care to keep people safe and work with local agencies to try and keep our brothers and sisters safe. We inform you, the reader, about the reality of what we see in our community and we advocate for better conditions for our friends. We want those making decisions to use their influence and resources to better the community as a whole so that all people of all economic situations enjoy the privileges of a healthy community and avoid future tragedies. As we acknowledge our ninth year of service and share our appreciation for your support, we do not celebrate the reason for our existence. As we acknowledge our ninth year, we remember the three women on Barstow Street and so many others that have suffered.
Please keep our friends living on the streets and in poverty in your thoughts and prayers. Thank you for your kind words, your support of the ministry and for the people we serve.
CVSM - Staff