Hands down, my favorite group in town! Check out the unbelievable work they do!
Can you imagine the possibilities if we paid some of these folks so they could quit their jobs and do this 40 hours a week and supported the organizational operations?
As the Operations Director I think I need to explain what I mean when I say we are doing Outreach- For the Friends of the State Street Family– It is not simply a band-aid that keeps people alive who are not able to be in the shelters…giving tents, sleeping bags and other essential items to folks sleeping outside.
Outreach also means- connecting people with existing services and doing so much more. When a person is homeless simple things, often become 10 times as difficult.
Like when we help them to get a job, it involves:
1. Taking people for haircuts, get a shower, helping them get an appropriate outfit.
2. Typing a resume for a job interview and spending a day with them taking them to different places that are hiring to fill out applications. Sometimes it means being a reference or helping them practice interview so they have some confidence.
3. Then it’s getting them a bus pass so they can get to work until they get their first paycheck. Buying them the appropriate shoes for the job. Helping them get a free phone so they can answer calls from employers. Also, helping them get into shelter or a regular shower and clean work clothes- (this is not so easy if they are sleeping outside) so they don’t get sent home or lose their job because they aren’t presentable.
But that’s not all we do-
It can be helping someone fill out financial aid forms and applications for colleges, driving them to appointments on campus to get in, helping them think through how to write an application essay question…paying the filing fee… and when they do get in- getting them school supplies, encouraging them and helping them remember how to do homework again, write an essay, outline a chapter.
Sometimes it means going to court with a victim and helping him or her stand up for themselves- letting them know someone is in their corner.
Helping them replace lost or stolen ID’s or important papers that can be the holdup for a food stamp card or some other necessary service.
Once in a while, people ask us to go with them to meetings with a caseworker or counselor because they may be intimidated or worried about the possible result.
It can also be visiting someone in jail, or at the Huber Center—or picking them up when they are released to help them get the things they need to re-establish themselves.
Sometimes it is delivering needed supplies and funneling donations to other homeless support agencies and groups all over the area- like the downtown night outreach groups, Bethel Lutheran Day Center, Occupy, Briarpatch and Porchlight’s Men’s Shelter, Community Action Coalition, Project Babies, Santas without Chimneys, and The River Food Pantry.
Sometimes it is calling on our friends in 12-step groups and getting them to come out with us, and take a person to detox when they ask for help and are ready to take that step.
It can be connecting a rape victim with the Rape Crisis Center, or if they won’t do that-at the very least- sitting there and holding her hand while she tells someone who cares what happened.
Recently, I have had the opportunity to have my Mother, who has a Master of Fine Arts degree from the UW come along and photograph homeless “homes” I am really excited about this as it will be an eye opener for a lot of people. I have written about some of the disconnect between what people perceive and what the truth actually is, and on a rare occasion – I will go to a protest or speak at an event for social justice- but that is just not in my natural wheelhouse, so I applaud others who do this on a regular basis and have the ability to go to meeting after meeting to get policy changed.
There are times that people just want to meet to talk through some issues they are having, and want help problem solving.
I have been asked many times to go to the doctor with people, when they are worried- so that someone is there to help them understand what is going on… sometimes we help people pay their co-pay on prescription meds if another agency can’t or won’t and it is a necessary thing – like an antibiotic, or insulin. We also do medical triage and wrap ankles, feet, hands, change bandaging or dressing on injuries or infections… sometimes we find people very sick or beaten up and we transport them to the emergency room and sit with them until they are treated or admitted.
We get invited to talk to different people – Churches, Civic Groups, Politicians, Rangers, Police about the reality of homelessness in Madison, because we see what many agencies don’t see- we go out and find folks. They don’t have to come in to us for help. We try to help them understand the shortage of shelter, and that some folks just CANT get in- and that there needs to be some grace or understanding given when that happens and people are found sleeping outside.
The outreach partners and I have dug latrines, cleaned up campsites, set up tents in the dark, bought food for people who haven’t eaten in days, picked up kids out in the woods for a 4 am shift, climbed under almost every bridge and into most every patch of woods, driven around town searching for cars that people are living in, washed and dried muddy and soaked items after a storm, dug people out of their cars when they have been “plowed in” in a big snowstorm, and jerry-rigged things together to make the summer camping tents somewhat warmer to sleep in in winter…
Our group has given out about 800 blankets, and 600 sleeping bags in the past 2 years… thousands of personal care items, tarps, about 150 tents, backpacks, boots, hats and gloves, over the counter meds, rain gear, crates and crates of clothing, about 1000 prs of new socks and underwear.
The other thing our group does is feed people- faithfully, consistently for over two years at the top of State Street every Saturday at 3pm. Rain, sleet or snow- we go out and feed people outside because they are outside… we are there for THEM. I figure if we average about 75 people a Saturday over 112 weeks (sometimes we have had as many as 150)- our group has provided- conservatively- 8,400 meals since we started.
We have also started a few spin-off groups- The “State Street Angels” area a group of volunteers who are homeless and FSSF volunteers together working to help the community at large, and make Madison a better place. The “Little Free-Range Library”- offering used books to take and exchange, keep or return to those who are homeless (so they don’t have to worry about ruining a library book by exposing it to the elements outside that they sleep in). I have also been contacted by groups in Texas, New Jersey and California to ask how we got started, and what we do for money and supplies- what worked and what didn’t – as they read about us on Facebook and wanted to do something similar.
We primarily fund ourselves- it’s the people on this page that help us do what we do. Some collect items from neighbors and groups, some volunteer, or cook food for food runs- buy things we need and donate, and some donate through paypal once or a couple times a year…there are about a hundred volunteers who have logged hours and donated items to help our mission move forward… without them, we would not be where we are today.
Thank you. Thank you donors, cooks, thrift shoppers and volunteers, Board Members and the people crazy enough to go out and do outreach with me… Thank you for every little thing you do. As you can see by our stats above… it adds up.
These are the things a friend does… Friends of the State Street Family are all volunteers and friends to those who are in need. We average contact during outreach with about 170 homeless individuals a week, and as a group- we do around 50-60 hours of volunteer outreach weekly as well.
We offer unconditional love and support, to those who are homeless and ask for it. Partnering with any other group who is out here trying to help as well… changing the perception of homelessness and doing ANYTHING practical or useful to help a homeless individual not only survive, but when they are ready- thrive.
WE would love it if you or your group would join us!
There is still so much more that needs to be done.
Love and Peace to you all. Thank you for joining us to do all of this amazing stuff… we dont talk about it that often, but we do need to let people know all that they are a part of, and say Thank you… and don’t give up… it is changing lives. You are changing lives
See, that is why they are my heroes! Check them out on facebook! You won’t regret it!
Categories: | Dane | Madison | Media | Wisconsin