Chippewa Valley Street Ministry Journal - November 21, 2021
We are concerned about the immediate future for our unhoused community members. We've written nearly in each journal about the fact that there are few bathrooms, decreased access to water and no daytime shelter or night time warming center for overflow available for safety for this winter season. Our concern is combined with frustration for various reasons: the people we serve are finding fewer and fewer places to go yet there is new construction from one end of downtown to the other; services are difficult for our brothers and sisters to obtain whether due to Covid, changes in staffing, lack of phone access, etc. The poor seem to be getting poorer and the unhoused seem to have fewer options.
Our ministry's mission is based on both our faith as well as our belief in what is described as basic rights as prescribed in the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights -- even if you're not familiar with the document, you may already support the rights listed: basic rights include freedom of speech, privacy, health, life, liberty and security, as well as an adequate standard of living (food, water, shelter, safety from the elements, etc.) The United States does not recognize the Declaration. Being left in the cold with decreased access to fulfill basic human needs is a social justice issue. We (collectively, with you) are left to advocate for those who are unheard and unseen but definitely present in our community. As we noted in our last journal, not having a safe place to go this winter is a life and death situation -- this is not meant to be dramatic but to be perfectly clear: people can and may die if they have no option for safety in the months ahead. If you have any way of helping to provide for safety for this population, please reach out.
The forecast for Thanksgiving Day at this time is for a high of 27 degrees with a wind of 10-15 mph which will make the air feel more like 15 degrees. There are no buses and many businesses will be closed, this eliminates the few locations that provide some degree of safety and warmth. There is an absolute risk of hypothermia and frostbite with skin exposed to the air for extended periods of time. We've been providing coats, gloves/mittens, boots, and other winter gear but these do not guarantee safety for 24/7 exposures.
Some of our homeless friends we talk with have discussed that they would like to work but are offered 2nd and 3rd shift options. While there is a shift differential and the earnings are satisfactory, the issue becomes the fact that they have nowhere to sleep prior to returning to work. They must leave the shelter at or around 7 to 8 am and likely have to stay awake until the later work shift begins. Whether they are working or not, being sleep deprived is dangerous and poor choices are often made while in this condition -- that's true for all of us. It is unfair to expect someone who is stressed about finances or worried how they will obtain their basic needs to maintain long term employment without sleep. They are expected to work to "better themselves" but they cannot secure their basic needs.
Recently, the ALICE report was issued by the United Way -- this is a measure to understand the struggles of households that earn above the federal poverty line, but below the cost to provide basic needs, including housing, transportation, and child care. Both Chippewa and Eau Claire Counties indicate that residents are continuing to struggle. An ALICE report from a few years ago indicated that Eau Claire County was in the top three poorest counties in the state, unfortunately it appears there may be a trend occurring. There is a link for more information in the following article: ALICE report . Currently, 32 % of Chippewa County is living below the threshold and 35% of Eau Claire County is below the threshold.
As we approach the Holidays, please keep the unhoused in our community as well as the working poor and those experiencing poverty in your thoughts and prayers. Depression, isolation and loneliness all increase in these populations at this time of year. A greeting, a wave, even a smile will go a long way this season.
Thank you for your dedication to the unhoused community. Please keep their safety in your thoughts and prayers.
Chippewa Valley Street Ministry staff
Chippewa Valley Street Ministry Journal - November 29, 2021
We hope you had a peaceful and blessed Thanksgiving Day. We are taking this opportunity to express our gratitude for your interest and support of the unhoused in our community. Without you, we would not be able to provide for the needs of the people we serve. Thank you.
The days and nights continue to become colder as we head towards winter and unfortunately, many of our brothers and sisters living on the street still do not have anywhere to go during the day to obtain warmth or shelter from the elements. It seems that every journal we've written for the last several months report the same thing: few options for shelter, for food, for water, for bathrooms. These needs are not just for the homeless; we all have these needs, however most of us have the privilege to not have to go in search of having our basic needs met on a daily basis and likely, myself included, take the abundance in our lives for granted.
The people that come to see us and visit us are fragile and vulnerable even in the best of weather and times. We're not officially into winter yet and already some are appearing haggard and exhausted. One woman, in particular, is of concern to us as she has been trafficked much of her life and that continues most days. The Street Ministry has done as much as we believe we can, considering that we're a small, volunteer ministry. We've engaged with law enforcement and some arrests were made yet the activity continues. Based on her behaviors that we've observed over the last year, we believe the woman to be experiencing a mental illness and for certain an elevated level of trauma. We separated her from the individual she was with during her last visit and provided cold weather gear as she had no mittens, only thin socks, thin pants and a hoodie. She said she was cold and tired. We gave her some food and water, and after putting a blanket around her and giving her a chair to sit in, we noted she was sleeping. She remained on the metal folding chair until we were packing up for the evening, she left with her things and the blanket wrapped around her shoulders.
Brief moment of refuge for one of our fragile visitors.
We see and hear about people sleeping out in the open: they sleep in doorways, in wooded areas, near the river, anywhere they can find someplace to get some rest. The individual in the following picture was not prepared for a cold night in any way, shape or form. A coat, sleeping bag, blanket and a pair of gloves were provided to keep him safer. As in the summer, we are concerned about hydration so water and Gatorade and food were provided. Hypothermia is a real danger that our friends need to be aware of.
Some of the people we serve struggle with addictions as well as significant mental illnesses and some of those individuals are most at risk for cold weather injuries and/or death. We are very concerned that if they are under the influence of a substance or their mental health symptoms are active, they may not be aware of the risk they are in with the cold weather and be unable to assist themselves. With these situations and countless others, we believe it is not that a death MAY occur but more likely a death WILL occur.
There are no easy answers for this situation, especially so close to winter settling down on us. Please keep those struggling to find warmth and safety in your thoughts and prayers.
Blessings to all,
Chippewa Valley Street Ministry Journal, November 10, 2021
As the street ministry prepares for our 10th winter on the street, we've reflected on what's changed for our homeless friends over this last decade. This will be the first year that there has not been a day center for them to shelter at and avoid the weather, find drinking water, bathrooms and general safety. We see a nervousness among our friends with winter approaching as they wonder how they will survive the elements until the shelter opens each evening. There will also be no warming center for the overflow at night at the shelter this year. We fear that this situation is becoming a life-or-death situation. Over the last 3 years we have been averaging approximately 11 deaths per year of our homeless friends from what we know of, and we are quite sure there has been more that we are unaware of. Several homeless veterans have committed suicide over the past two years. Other homeless friends have died for a variety of reasons and their passing usually goes unnoticed to the general public.
Last December when the homeless shelter was located 4 miles outside of the downtown area it was reported on more than a few occasions of having well over one hundred guests in an evening. Now that the shelter has returned to the downtown area and is only able to house less than half that many guests, the street ministry is noticing people starting to sleep in downtown business/church doorways again and encampments in other parts of the city.
Sleeping in a doorway in Eau Claire.
Whether sleeping in a doorway or elsewhere outdoors, it will become increasingly risky with colder weather approaching.
The street ministry has been handing out sleeping bags, blankets and tents along with food and water during our evening safety checks to help our friends with their survival. Soon we will fill requests for thermals/long underwear and heavier gloves. We're blessed to have the ability to adjust to the needs of our homeless friends and the weather -- all because of your generosity! Because we operate only with donations, we are asking for donations of blankets and sleeping bags to keep people safe while they remain outdoors. If preferable, financial donations can be made and we will purchase these items in larger quantities.
Our ministry volunteers had a conversation one evening after being out serving our brothers and sisters and agreed that there seems to be a general sense of hopelessness in the homeless community. There is no housing, nowhere to go, few options for bathrooms, and water is difficult to access. Parks are closed and it is getting cold outside. Some people have the ability to take a bus and get a cup of coffee somewhere to wait out the day; others can't do that and must find a place where they are safe, warm, near a bathroom, have access to food and water, and not considered to be loitering. While the items we disburse provide warmth and safety and our visits provide a sense of family and friendship, this is a temporary fix for a much, much larger problem.
Thank you for your support of our vulnerable community members. Be safe and please keep our unhoused community members in your thoughts and prayers.
CVSM - staff