Chippewa Valley Street Ministry Journal - June 21, 2021
Our community has certainly seen changes over the last year: the homeless population has grown, the shelter has relocated twice and returned to its permanent location; the daytime drop-in center has transitioned to appointments only and the availability of resources has decreased. Because of your support, the street ministry has supported the people affected by these changes. Thank you so very much!
Our community had a loss last week. A homeless woman we've known for several years passed away and likely, you have not heard about it. She was an older adult and had significant mental illness which would get in the way of relationships -- both friendly and professional relationships. The woman tended to isolate, that may have been by her own choice or the result of how she was perceived by others. Thankfully, a local downtown church kept their eyes on her and helped her when she allowed it. On Wednesday, street ministry volunteers noted approximately 10 emergency personnel members attending to someone on a bench in downtown Eau Claire and we later learned that it was 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. We mourn her passing as a member of our community as well as an individual that appears to have passed without any acknowledgement -- no obituary, no news article relating to her circumstance of her death, nothing other than news passed by word of mouth. The people we serve often feel invisible to others and this was true even in her death. We are grateful for the efforts made by a staff person at the church nearby to check on the woman. May she rest in peace.
A flower and poem (below) were left in honor of the woman who passed away on this very bench.
By Jacob Folger
December 22, 2011
It is hard, cold and unforgiving
All morning, day and night
Many think I chose this life for me
They say it’s not their fight.
Sometimes the hunger really sucks
But I do have my pride
I won't beg, so if I must
In the garbage I will dive.
My one pair of stockings
are so filthy and so stiff
I try to wash them in the public fountain
Since I won't likely get new ones as a gift.
I while away the hours
I just try to get through each day
I wish there was a job for me
To earn some honest pay.
I watch the traffic going by
Busy people to and fro
It is though I am not even here
No one will say hello.
It is now time to lay down to sleep
I pray the Lord, my soul will keep
And whether or not I die before I wake
All homelessness in this world, please eradicate.
As we have noted in previous journals, people leaving the shelter in the morning often have little access to bathrooms or sources of water throughout the day. Several people would stay outside of the shelter for various reasons: mobility challenges, safety in numbers, lack of money to go anywhere, etc. We've learned that staying outside of the shelter is no longer an option and everyone must vacate the property to go .... where? They likely can't afford to be in the downtown businesses and several people have stated they don't feel welcome in the establishments, so that is not a viable option. Spending the day in a park is an option if they are physically able to get there, however there is a safety risk going anywhere alone and especially if they are women. Even if they go in a group there is a question of where to get water, food or bathrooms. Spending too much time anywhere violates vagrancy or loitering ordinances. How can anyone expect significant progress in a person's situation when they are having to focus so much time on simply surviving? We support the idea of assisting oneself through programs for the betterment of an individual, but we do not support adding more and more obstacles to a situation that puts success so far out of reach, it becomes pointless to even make an attempt.
In our June 15th journal, we mentioned that we would update you on information about one of our homeless friends who was taken and sex-trafficked for approximately 6 days. Within this period of time the street ministry was in contact with the Chippewa Falls Sheriff's Department, the D.O.C. as well as the Eau Claire Police Department. These law enforcement groups made several welfare checks at area motels and looked into the person who was trafficking our homeless friend. After being trafficked for 6 days we are happy to say she found herself back to the homeless shelter. Additionally, one arrest was made involving this incident. I would like to say this is a rare incident and all will return to normal, but the likelihood of this recurring is very high. Please keep all our homeless friend's safety in your thoughts and prayers.
Chippewa Valley Street Ministry Journal - June 15, 2021
There's much to talk about with this journal. We've returned to the street and are learning what our "new normal" is. We're striving to meet the immediate needs of our brothers and sisters and learning what needs still to be met by either the street ministry or others.
Volunteers have been extra attentive to needs during the recent heat wave. As noted in a previous journal, there are few sources of water or available bathrooms in the downtown area -- where many of our friends are staying throughout the day. With the heat, we went out at least three times per day with water, Gatorade and food to assist with the additional challenges of the heat. The sun and heat brought significant risks of dehydration as well as dangers of sunburn. Many of the people we serve have had sunburns and their skin is peeling. Some have skin that looks almost leather-like. There are few places to escape the elements whether it be storms or the hot sun beating down.
One of the major issues we are seeing played out on the street in recent times is sex trafficking. This has always been an important issue and one that we have been careful to be on alert for over the years. The homeless/street populations are always at risk and on more than a few occasions the street ministry has been able to separate the victim from the trafficker when the opportunity presents itself. However, in recent times we have watched traffickers literally compete for the same target/victim. Last week when we were set up on the street Pastor Jen, one of our street ministry volunteers, and a young female staffer from the shelter confronted a trafficker who was soliciting a member of our homeless population. It became a pretty intense confrontation. At this time that particular homeless person has been missing for the past 4 days. We will keep you updated on her welfare. Please keep her in your thoughts and prayers.
We talked with a man that complained of his foot hurting. While I looked at his foot, he talked about having blisters on two of his toes after wearing wet socks after a heavy rain. He had changed his socks three times that day, but he finally had run out of dry socks and he continued to walk with his wet feet. The blisters had ruptured and one of the toes appeared to be infected -- the entire toe was swollen and discolored and there was some drainage. We gave him some band-aids and instructed him to wash his feet before applying the bandages and if there continued to be pain, he should seek medical attention. He tried to find a shelter to go to during the rain but there was nowhere he could stay for very long. We'll check with him again this week for an update on his toe. We gave him dry socks for that moment and a couple of pairs to take with him.
The common theme we hear is there is no easily available water, no bathrooms, and no safe place to go during the day. Basic human needs are unmet in our community and with the additional safety challenges of the heat and sun, those needs are even more difficult to provide for. Is this really what we, as a community, want for Eau Claire?
Chippewa Valley Street Ministry Staff