Chippewa Valley Street Ministry Journal March 24, 2019
Volunteering on the street on Friday evening were Chuck, Larry, Marge, Cat, Barb, Brent, Pastor Mike, Brian, Kelly, Wendy and myself. We thoroughly enjoyed the warmer, dry weather and were busy steadily throughout the evening.
Even with the daily air temperatures increasing, we still had requests for coats. It gets chilly at night and those who stay outside need the extra protection. We also gave out the stretchy, one size gloves and other basic items. Our friends are very happy for the better weather, for certain. We anticipate that we will begin receiving requests for shoes and other warm weather items before long.
We visited with about 40 friends, overall we're seeing an increase of people needing items and staying at the shelter. Its difficult to pinpoint why that is the case but it is concerning. We heard that failed relationships was the cause of one woman's homelessness, a loss of employment and inability to pay rent was another reason. Regardless of the reason, we, as a community, have a growing number of people in need of shelter.
Street Ministry volunteers have been working with individuals during daytime hours as well as our usual evening hours. One of the men we've known for many years has obtained housing through a local program; in order to get him to this point volunteers transported him to various agencies to complete the application process. We're now giving him assistance with getting his apartment set up and other needs met. Another person we work with has mental health concerns that has required more contact and a ride to a local emergency room. We are doing jail visits and providing support to our friends who are there and others as requested. We also keep tabs on the families that we've worked with over the years -- our work is not contained to our evening street work!
In other news, there are good things happening around the community: Sojourner homeless shelter is undergoing changes that will bring more positivity to the people utilizing the shelter; there is a focus on increased staff and services. Also in the very near future, a team of concerned community partners will be working together to come up with a sustainable plan to reduce homelessness. You may remember that during Fall 2018, an expert came to Eau Claire and had multiple meetings to evaluate the homelessness and housing conditions in Eau Claire. This person will soon be back to coordinate efforts to address and change this serious situation.
As always, thank you for your support; we truly need your support to do our work. Please keep our friends and volunteers in your thoughts and prayers.
Blessings to you all!
-Karen - Social Worker, Street Nurse
Chippewa Valley Street Ministry Journal, March 15, 2019
We were busy -- very busy -- on Friday as the level of need and amount of people were greater than we'd seen for awhile. We were grateful to have every volunteer tonight: Marj, Larry, Chuck, Wendy, Barb, Brent, Kelly, Pastor Mike, Michelle and myself. We served approximately 45 visitors, we heard from shelter staff later that they had 62 guests.
The evening started out slowly and quickly became busy. A woman that had been communicating with us through Facebook stopped by to inquire about services for herself and her two children. The man that I wrote about last week that had said his partner was in the hospital stopped by to talk. He talks rapidly and in a rambling manner; its difficult to follow the conversation and often its a matter of simply being available to him. A woman that seemed familiar stopped by and needed gloves and a scarf. She said that she remembered us as she had been homeless several years ago and needing to stay at the shelter. I apologized for not remembering her better, there were no hard feelings and she crossed the street to the shelter.
Near the end of our evening, a woman that we've known for many years that struggles with medical and mental health issues arrived. She was unable to stay at the shelter and was unsure where she would stay that night. We spent time trying to problems solve and came up with a workable plan for her.
As we were finalizing our plans with the woman, the man with the significant mental illness returned to ask if we could help him with his wife. We clarified his statement as just earlier in the evening he had said that she was in the hospital. We'd seen a taxi go through the shelter's parking lot and then assumed that the taxi had dropped her off and sure enough, that was the case. Wendy and I went across the street to assess his wife and determine if we needed to do anything. The woman said she had been in the hospital and was treated for frostbite on her feet. This was plausible to me as weeks earlier, we helped her with boots during one of the very cold and snowy days when she was wearing very lightweight and flimsy shoes. She made several accusations towards the hospital and regardless of what we said, she continued to talk over us and was adamant that she was not going to go into the shelter even though her husband was equally adamant that they were going in. Wendy and I decided that this was an issue between them and that because the shelter was an option and that for the time being, they were safe and we left them.
While its important to share stories and updates of our visitors, I want to also share an observation that I personally need to do more often. We spend a lot of time filling needs, talking, listening and so on, and tonight I was reminded that the people we serve are so much more than simply people living in need. The woman that was unable to stay at the shelter mentioned her grandchildren and as long as I've known her, she's never mentioned her extended family. She beamed with happiness while she talked about them. Its so important to remember that each person is someone's son or daughter, father or mother, they are all someone -- someone with hopes and dreams and joys and sorrows.
Please keep our friends in your thoughts and prayers.
- Karen - Social worker, Street Nurse
Chippewa Valley Street Ministry - Sunday, March 10, 2019
Once again, our weather created challenges for our friends on the street. With no buses running on Sundays, walking is the main option. With the snow and wind, walking is difficult and unpleasant, especially for people with mobility challenges. This morning, Brent, Larry and Pastor Mike assisted those who had stayed at the shelter to various locations where they planned on spending their day. As we did last weekend with the snowstorm, we purchased breakfast sandwiches to share.
In the evening, Pastor Mike and I transported people from the Community Table / Positive Avenue area back to the shelter. While the sun had appeared and the roads were improved, we wanted to ensure that anyone wanting or needing transportation received it. There are a couple of people out there that use a cane or walker as well as folks that don't use a device but have an affected gait. These afflictions make not only the distance difficult but also getting up and down the hills difficult.
The interactions we have with people while they are in our cars is very different than when we're on the street and I, personally, thoroughly enjoy it. It is much more intimate; often, people who don't talk much on the street open up and chat like we're old friends. Always, we hear sincere gratitude for the help. These short rides are more than just rides to our friends: they are another opportunity to connect, to belong, to matter.
Blessing to you all, please keep our friends in your thoughts and prayers!
- Karen - Social Worker-Street Nurse
Chippewa Valley Street Ministry Journal, March 8, 2019
As we were driving eastward to downtown Eau Claire, we noted the warm glow on the east hill. The glow that was being given off from the sun setting behind us gave no indication of the impending storm that's been forecasted for our area. Looking beyond the snowy forecast, it appears that we'll need to transition our winter gear for rain gear in a matter of a few days. Out in service tonight were Tracy, Cat, Brian, Larry, Pastor Mike, Wendy, and myself. The temp was in the 30°s and it was light out when we arrived. Tracy and I talked about how we hardly recognized each other and the other volunteers without having scarves wrapped around faces and hoods up.
We encountered numerous individuals that appeared to have significant mental illness. One man came to us several times from the shelter and talked about things ranging from governmental experiments on his body to grandiose statements about his abilities and employment to showing off a number of badges that he had on lanyards around his neck. The badges were really nothing more than tags he'd likely found on the ground and scooped up but to him, they were badges that he believes give him high importance.
Larry and I walked down to the corner to talk to another man that had previously told us that he has schizophrenia. It was hard to determine what was real in his rambling conversation and what was delusional. He usually has a woman friend with him but he said she was in the hospital, being separated from her for whatever the reason had stressed him and that appeared to have increased his symptoms.
The young couple that I've previously written about appeared across from us, Wendy and I crossed the street to visit with them. They declined the bags of food, hand warmers and water from us and said they already had too many bags to carry. The man said he was now working through a temporary agency and was hoping to get an apartment. I asked the woman what she did during the day while he was working and she stated that she looked for a quiet place to sit within walking distance of the shelter and waited for him. As mentioned in previous journals, we believe they have some cognitive deficits and I worry about her, especially, being vulnerable. We've given them some daily bus passes but will get them each a monthly pass to help get him to and from work and for her to be able to expand her options for occupying her time.
One of the young women that we've worked with and followed for several years came to us to talk. Often, I talk with her simply because I've known her story and needs. Tonight, however, Tracy and Cat took time with her and I believe that was best for the young woman. My relationship with the woman is good but it often feels like a mother/daughter relationship and she doesn't always want me to know certain things so as not to disappoint me or hear my thoughts on what she tells me. Today she shared her stories to fresh faces and received a different type of support. I was happy to have Cat and Tracy learn about this woman, she has multiple challenges and perhaps they will have new ideas for her.
All in all, it was a pleasant and calm evening. With the warmer air, there seemed to be a renewed sense of hope. Tonight wasn't about providing items, though we did hand out gloves, sleeping bags and other essentials, but rather about community and being present. It was a joy to be out and be able to share the news and stories of what we see and hear with you.
While the weather is warming, please keep our friends in need in your thoughts and prayers. Thank you for your on-going support of the ministry and the people we serve.
- Karen - social worker/street nurse
Street Journal note - March 3, 2019
Due the cold weather today, we arranged for transportation help to get our friends to and from the shelter to Positive Avenues and Community Table today and back to the shelter this evening. Members of Saving Grace Lutheran Church drove their church's van back and forth so that our friends did not have to traverse the cold, breezy city to get to their destination. Prior to the van arriving this morning, we purchased 55 breakfast sandwiches from a local fast food restaurant to share with those who had stayed at the shelter last night. Volunteers from an organization in the area were bringing a hot meal when we arrived back at the shelter this evening.
This morning, a couple of people were going places other than Positive Avenues and Pastor Mike suggested that I drive them, one went to a local cafe and another to the library. Having the time alone with these folks provided an opportunity to get to know them, their histories and their current challenges much better. One gentleman told me that he'd had a hip replacement and was in need of another as well as having a lung disease that required him to use oxygen at night. Unfortunately, he has not been able to use the oxygen machine but hoped he would soon have access to it. Our friends who suffer medical and mental health issues are very concerning to us and we try to keep a close eye on them. I asked him to keep in touch with us so we knew his status.
Another man said a simple phrase that had me thinking about mine and many others' privilege frequently during the day. He sat quietly in my car for a little while and I asked if he was okay. He said that yes, he was fine, he was just trying to remember the last night he had actually ridden in a car. He had come to Eau Claire from a location where he primarily rode on a bus, arrived in Eau Claire on a bus, and relied on the public transit system or walked where he needed to go. After arriving at his destination, I wondered to myself how long it had been since I had NOT ridden in a car? Speaking for myself, I often take my life for granted: housing, transportation, employment, food and support from family and friends.
This evening we again assisted with transportation. The temperature had dropped with the sun going down and the wind picking up; we were glad that no one was having to walk. As scheduled, the Saving Grace van appeared to help transport our friends back to the shelter. The man I'd talked with this morning regarding his oxygen concentrator came out of Positive Avenues and said that the ride he'd expected to help him transport him and the oxygen equipment did not come. We put the machine in my car, he got in and we followed the van full of other people to the shelter. Pastor Mike remained behind and helped the next group get ready. Upon return to Positive Avenues, the van filled up again and Pastor Mike and I helped a man up an incline that was quite icy. We determined that getting into the van would be too difficult due to his mobility challenges so we offered a ride in my car and we again followed the van to the shelter while Pastor Mike met us there with the backpacks and belongings to the riders in the van.
We are extremely grateful to Saving Grace Lutheran Church for their willingness to help our friends in need. Today was an example of our community once again coming together to do good as has happened many times before. It is heartwarming to know that when there is a need, we can count on one another to get the job done.
Blessings to all! Stay warm and keep our friends and volunteers in your thoughts and prayers!
- Karen - Nurse/Social Worker
Chippewa Valley Street Ministry Journal - March 1, 2019
While it was snowing (again!) it was a beautiful evening to be on the street. We had no wind to contend with and were able to serve our friends with ease. Out tonight were Chuck, Larry, Cat, Pastor Mike, Brian, our new student volunteers Grace and Brittney and myself.
My journey with the street ministry started as a student in need of service learning hours and quickly turned into more than a learning requirement for me. Since then, we have actively recruited students to join us as being in the elements and in the environment of the people we serve is a great opportunity to learn a multitude of skills as well as services in the community and even about ourselves. Kelly, who has remained with us after her service requirement was met, explained to a classroom of students that she learned to work on interpersonal communication skills and also became very aware of her own privilege as far as being a student, employed, supportive relationships, and more.
I spent my time this evening with Grace and Brittney and thoroughly enjoyed talking with them and listening to their observations. With the snow falling and seemingly less traffic, they noted that they could hear the music from the speakers a little further downtown on Barstow Street just a few blocks away. They observed a gentleman walking towards us a half a block away that didn't have gloves and took care of him when he arrived to us. They assisted in locating and providing winter boots for a woman and heard the stories of a young couple who are very sweet but cognitively challenged and struggling to obtain housing and employment. They observed Chuck and Larry going across the street to a man who had some mobility challenges and had fallen. While we served few people than usual, the experiences of the interactions and the time we were able to spend with each person was meaningful. Both Grace and Brittney expressed concern about the condition of a gentleman with mental health concerns.
Pastor Mike asked Chuck and I to cross the street as he had noted a woman that was bent over and appeared to be being held up and was being assisted by two other people. Once we arrived, we recognized the man helping the woman as her husband or partner and the other person a woman who directs a local agency who had been at the right place at the right time to offer her help. Chuck and I assisted how we could and the woman was safely brought to a bench at the shelter where we assessed her needs. The staff person at the shelter was right there with us and providing the resources that she had available. The man that was with her was the person I'd spoke with and written about in my last journal. He had come alone last week and told me that while they both suffer from a mental illness, she was struggling more than he was. After meeting her today and seeing and hearing her for myself, I would concur with that. I didn't inquire about her physical challenges but she appears to be unable to stand up straight and could potentially benefit from a walker, although with the snow that would possibly be more than a hindrance than a help.
The young couple that Grace, Brittney and I interacted with are fairly new to the street ministry. They are extremely kind but, as previously mentioned, both seem to have cognitive challenges. We asked how they met and had known each other (2+ years), where they were from as they'd both indicated that they were not from Eau Claire, and what plans they had. The entire time that they talked with us they held hands and demonstrated care and respect for one another. While I'm concerned for them -- they seem very vulnerable -- I am comforted that they have one another. The woman is clearly dependent on the man and he appears to take his role very seriously. We'll keep in touch with them and help them as able.
Thank you for your interest, your support and your continued prayers and actions towards helping the people we serve.
Karen - Street Nurse/Social Worker