I don't recall a time being on the street when it rained as steadily as it did this evening for our entire time out. We were soaked to the skin but were grateful for the warmer temperature as it could have been freezing.
For part of the evening, Becky and I found ourselves in the van talking with one of our regular visitors. This woman and her young children were without shelter for the night and we came up with a plan so they would be safe. Because of not having childcare or a place to stay, the young woman had not been able to work that day. Missing a day of work is detrimental when there is no other income. Overall, she seemed okay and is remaining sober. She reports that she has been clean for five months, we are very proud of her determination in becoming healthier.
As George mentioned in his journal, a young woman and her male friend approached us near the end of our visit. We sensed a problem with the woman as soon as we spotted her about a block away: she appeared to stumble or lean on her friend. It looked as though she had no shoes and the closer she came, the more it looked as though she were struggling to stay upright and be oriented to her surrounding. As is our typical practice, we separated the woman from her counterpart to allow her to speak freely if she wished and for us to determine any safety needs. We found that she was not at all appropriate in orientation or behavior. She appeared to be under the influence of some sort of substance but denied or refused to answer our questions. She was pale, unable to focus her eyes and her unsteady gait caused us concern. She became beligerent and perceived our questions about substances as accusations rather than inquiries. We were unable to provide a pair of shoes for her but did manage to convince her to take a pair of dry socks and sweatpants to change into after getting to the shelter. She was quite obstinate about taking the items but in the end, she did accept them and crossed the street in her stocking feet and wet pants to join her friend. We have worked with this woman before and have seen her at both ends of the spectrum -- she's been alert and oriented and able to communicate effectively and there have been times such as this evening when all we can do is pray for her safety. When someone is under the influence as this woman potentially was, their safety is jeopardized and they become very vulnerable on and off of the street.
Thank you for your interest and support! Please look through the rest of the journal and the needs list. Contact us with questions!
Karen -- Street nurse
Wet, busy, and crazy.
Wet. It wasn't cold--it was in the low 70s--and when I arrived at 5:40pm it wasn't raining. A couple of minutes later, however, there was a steady downpour that lasted most of our time out there. Often there was enough wind that it came down at an angle, making it very hard to stay dry. We (Becky, Brent, Brian, Karen, Larry, Michelle, Mike, and I) were all soaked by the end of the night. Our visitors were also soaked, even those with umbrellas.
Busy. We served around 40 people, giving each a bag with food, a water bottle, and a protein shake or juice pouch. We also distributed clothing and at least one backpack, although we did not have enough umbrellas and rain jackets which, naturally, were in demand tonight. There were few moments, despite the rain, when we had no visitors.
Crazy. Mike tried to warn a man to stay clear of another man who had been acting very aggressively. The man Mike warned for some reason didn't appreciate the friendly warning and started shouting at Mike incoherently, and then stormed across the street. The other man, the one we had warned about, came over a bit later, and was very loud. Although he didn't threaten us, he was very provocative. He then went over to the shelter side of the street, only to return 5 separate times to complain or comment about some thing or another. We tried to calm him down, but since he seemed like he wanted someone to challenge him, we tried to ignore him as nicely as possible. I fear he will try to pick a fight with someone tonight.
Here are few other of tonight's events: A man stopped by and dropped off clothing for the ministry. I didn't catch his name, but thank you! A woman, one of our regulars, stopped by in a car with three children and chatted for a few minutes, but I was didn't hear much of that conversation. The rain picked up and was so hard that the shelter let people in early and we thought that we might have fewer visitors, but that was not the case. A young man came by--I've seen him before--and talked to Mike about his situation. He had bought half of a trailer to live in, but the person who owned the other half stopped paying, so now he pays all of the bills and can't get the other person, who has been taking advantage of him and who brought in yet another person to live there, out. Another man asked Mike for help--he has a court date in a city 45 minutes away--but it is too far for Mike to drive him on that day. Yet another man said he was diagnosed with a disease, got depressed, and, as a result, started drinking again and got himself into an even worse state.
A bit later a couple approached us, but stopped about 20 feet away. The man came up and received a bag, but the woman just stood there under a small umbrella. She was in stocking feet--no shoes--and was wearing ill-fitting pants that were soaking wet from the knees down. We approached her and asked if we could help. It was became clear to us that she was under the influence of a substance. She has trouble focusing, couldn't enunciate clearly, was incoherent when she did speak, and couldn't walk well. Unfortunately, we had no shoes that fit her, but we did give her dry socks to put on once she got the shelter, and some other dry clothes. I think she was somewhat angry with us because one of us had asked if she had taken drugs recently, although I doubt she will remember the conversation. Just before 7, when we packed up and left, a woman came by in a minivan that was packed to the roof. We took a bag of food over to her. I'm guessing that van held all her worldly possessions.
We left a few minutes after seven. I don't want to leave the wrong impression. Most of our visitors were sober, calm, grateful, and are just down on their luck. Others are fighting hard to overcome their addictions or their mental illness. The ones we most remember, however, are the ones we see at their darkest times, when mental illness or addiction brings out threatening, unexpected or unusual behaviors.
Please pray for, and care for, the poor.
When I arrived there was a young woman that has been a familiar face to the ministry leaning next to the van drinking several bottles of water. She has not been on the street for some time but recently had a falling out with her "roommates" and was asked to leave. She only had a small backpack of clothing items with her. She struggles with anxiety and other mental health issues so the recent situation caused her to have a panic attack and seek help at the Emergency Room. She was checked over and given some medication to relax and sent on her way. She was very warm from walking a long distance to get to the shelter. She does not have a car or bus tokens so is on foot at this time.
After letting her get cooled off and re-hydrated a bit we were able to talk more with her about her needs and concerns. She expressed the need to get her furniture and a few other personal items out of the apartment she was in as soon as possible. She has no income or way to support herself at this time and has been denied for disability.
She is an amazing artist and takes great pride in that but it does not generate any income for her. She is not eligible for a housing program at this time so really has several barriers to overcome in the next few weeks. Arrangements were made to assist her in getting her essential items out of her place this week.
After talking for some time about the practical needs that she had we asked her if there was anything we could pray with her about and she responded quickly that she wanted prayer for a few personal things. We were able to pray with her and give her a much needed hug and leave her with the peace that we would connect with her later this week.
Homeless Service Coordinator
LE Phillips Career Development Center
Chippewa Outreach Office
Our wish for warm weather was put on hold today, the skies were dry but the breeze was very chilly. We handed out gloves and hats as well as hoodies and jackets -- wasn't it eighty degrees just two weeks ago? We had started transitioning the winter-wear out of the van and replacing it with summer-wear but had left a few of the warmer items in the van, just in case. Many visitors were happy to have the items for warmth and the volunteers -- Brian, Larry, Becky, Brent, Pastor Mike, and Michelle -- were happy to be able to be available to fulfill those basic needs and as well as some social needs.
We met a variety of people this evening. One man was passing through town, another had just been released from the county jail today. One woman commented how she appreciated our being there as a support and that our remembering her from week to week made her feel a little bit better.
Note by Michelle
Friday, May 13th
It was cold and windy Friday. There were a few people at the shelter across the street already when I arrived. Our mom with 3 kids and her boyfriend were there picking up some clothing and reporting on their week. They began working a night shift mid-week and were trying to adjust to the schedule. I asked when they slept, and they said it wasn't easy, especially with the 3 little ones, but they tried to sleep when they got home from work early in the morning. I spoke with the man a few minutes who told me their car had quit completely and they'd had to get a new one. He had previous work contacts who could provide one and was grateful to be able to do so quickly. They'd had a chance to go inner tubing behind a boat earlier in the week, and while the water was cold, the weather was warm and they'd enjoyed the day. They continue to do well working, but are struggling trying to find ways to make ends meet. I appreciate their positivity in the face of so many challenges.
Another man I met had just been released from jail. He'd come to Eau Claire and had gotten arrested shortly after he arrived. After sitting in jail for almost 2 months he was released to the streets and had nothing but the clothes on his back. I found some clothing and told him about meal and food sites, places to hang out during the day and made sure he had Pastor Mike's card as a possible contact if he needed other assistance. He was looking for employment, as he wants to return to MN and needed some money to apply to transfer his court case there.
As we were leaving for the evening, two men approached the van for a bag of food and one told me he wouldn't be able to stay at the shelter for violating one of the shelters rules the previous night. It was expected to be below freezing tonight and he asked if we could find some blankets or other warm clothes to give him. Because of the generous support of this ministry by our community, we were able to find him shelter for the night.
Others had come and gone, greeting us with stories of their day, or with just a smile. Most of our time is spent interacting with people, listening to their stories, and showing compassion and respect. If we can occasionally help someone with clothing or a backpack, or some other small need, that's good, too. Your support in prayer and donations of goods & money are greatly and graciously appreciated by the people we serve.
Pastor Mike received a call from one of the young women we've written about recently. She suffers from mental illness and we're continuously concerned about her vulnerability. She is currently staying in a residential treatment center in the area and Pastor Mike and I went to visit her. She appears to be safe and is being cared for, we were relieved that her basic needs are being provided for her. We were fortunate enough to spend time with two staff members of the facility who taught us a great deal about the young woman. It was simultaneously enlightening to learn her history as well as discouraging to realize that there is not a great deal that we can do for her. We can try to encourage safety and compliance with her treatment and that is about all.
Karen - Street Nurse
Our volunteers tonight were Brent, Brian, Pastor Mike and Mariah. The weather was warm and dry, do we dare hope that spring is here to stay?
Soon after our arrival the young mother of three children arrived. She shared her good news as well as her struggles. She remains sober and when I asked her what she does if and when she gets cravings, she responded that she calls her boyfriend who has been sober for three years. She clearly trusts him and finds comfort in his presence. She talked about how her children are not able to attend daycare currently, this is a stressor for her as the children were thriving in that environment. On a positive note, she is working on a regular basis and feels very good about that. Each time I see her I marvel at how far she's come and am so glad we've gotten to meet her and walk along with her on this journey.
The rest of evening was fairly uneventful until we were just getting ready to depart. I think that at the same time, we all noticed a young girl walking on the sidewalk towards us. Pastor Mike said he's seen her earlier in the day several blocks from where we were. Before any of us could greet her or ask any questions, she was asking us if we knew where the bus station was. I offered to walk the few blocks with her to assure her safety. The little girl was agreeable and away we went.
I asked lots of questions to see what I could learn about her. She is eleven years old and is in fifth grade at a local elementary school. She was downtown to swim at the YMCA which is an activity that she does often. Typically, her older brother and sister accompany her but today she came alone. She had gotten turned around when first finding the YMCA and again when she was trying to find the bus station. She had wet hair from her swim and was wearing very lightweight outfit so her wet swimming suit showed through. She had flip-flops on and was carrying a tote bag with a very long strap on it. She said she's taken the bus before but had gotten on the wrong one and it took a very long time to get home and she wanted to avoid that today. I asked about her parents, she lives with her dad and siblings as her mother passed away a few years ago.
We arrived at the bus station and I confirmed with the security guard there that the bus she needed would be arriving soon. He assured me that it was his job to stay in the bus station and watch people, he would keep an eye on her. Her bus was only about ten minutes out, he said. The little girl thanked me and said I should go, that she'd be fine. Very reluctantly, I left. As I walked back to meet up with Brent and Pastor Mike, I thought about the vulnerability of such a young person. There are less than safe people on the street that she could have come into contact with. Part of me wanted to provide my number for her to call in case this happened again but I don't want her parent to think I'm intervening where I shouldn't. We'll definitely be on the lookout for her again as with any other child or adult in need of help.
Please continue to pray for those we serve. We're grateful for your support and interest.
We apologize for the sporadic journals as of late. Due to some unforeseen personal circumstances, we took a publishing break but we are back in action and ready to share our news.
Rather than try to catch up on all of the news from the last week or two out on the street, we want to focus on just a couple of women we're working with. This is not intended to minimize the other people we're working with but these women stand out as being in greater need than the others.
The first woman we originally met last summer and had serious concerns for her mental health and safety. She obtained housing for several months and has now returned to the street and is just as vulnerable as ever. She is someone who seems to be slipping through the cracks of society and we're trying to figure out the best method to be of help to her.
This young woman appears to have significant mental illness. Her communication, while verbal, is unreliable in terms of her orientation to reality. It is difficult to track her thoughts, her needs or who she really is because she will start talking, hesitate for several seconds and when she begins talking she may have changed topics or becomes delusional. Over the course of the time we've known her, volunteers have taken her to a local ER for evaluation and treatment. In fact, just recently, Pastor Mike brought her to the ER and after several hours she left on her own will without receiving treatment. The nurses at the ER did a great job working with her and had concerns for her. Because she is legally an adult and as far as we know not under anyone's guardianship, no one is able to require her to stay and get the help she needs. Since her trip to the hospital, we have not had contact with her. All we can do is look and talk to people who may know her and encourage them to bring her back to us.
The woman is extremely vulnerable. One of our greatest concerns is that of her safety not only because of her mental illness but because of her history with sex trafficking. We don't feel she is intentionally making poor or unsafe choice but doing so simply because she isn't aware of the consequences. She currently thinks she may be pregnant. She wanders around town and is often hard to locate in order to bring her to a provider for a pregnancy test.
When she arrives to see us, she frequently has a male with her. We always separate her from her companion in hopes of providing her time to say what she can and if necessary, remove her from their control and into a safer environment. We know some of the people that are trafficking her and have warned them to stay away from her but we are not able to be with her 24/7.
The other woman I'm writing about is the young mother of three toddlers that is frequently mentioned in the journals. She seems to be on the right track of becoming more positive and responsible for herself and her children, it makes us very happy to see her comi n g out of her struggles. She is in a relationship that appears to be supportive in nature rather than the abusive relationships of the past. She went through treatment a couple of months ago and has gained a great deal from that experience. She is working on a regular basis and overall, her appearance is that of pride and satisfaction.
We're attaching the writings of two of our volunteers that demonstrates our concern for the women noted above.
From Sam, one of our social work students:
Tuesday - April 19, 2016
Tonight on the street we were visited by a young woman that we haven't seen for awhile. She appeared to be severely mentally ill, not being able to look at any of our volunteers in the face. She was very timid and didn't answer many of our questions at first. We later learned that she had just been kicked out of her apartment and did not have any clothes with her except for the ones that she was wearing. We gave her several articles of clothing, new shoes, and a hygiene kit. After talking to her, we later learned that she believes that she is pregnant but does not know how far along and believes that the baby is her "husbands". We asked her if she felt safe with the guy that she was with for the night, and she said "most of the time". She then told us that she doesn't feel safe when he brings guys over for her. She appears to be taken advantage of on the street and is being trafficked. She stated that she has had anywhere from 9 to 12 guys in her apartment and we are very concerned for her safety and well-being. She was told to try to come back on Friday and visit with one of our volunteers to check-in and see what else we can do for her. At this point our main priority is to just keep her safe as she appears to very vulnerable.
From Barb, our children's ministry volunteer:
Tuesday, April 19, 2016
Pastor Mike, Mariah, Samantha, Brent, Jake, Brian and I were out on the street tonight. Thankfully, the rain had let up. We talked with the young mom with 3 small children. She told us that she is trying to take one day at a time and if things start to overwhelm her, she tries to stay active and to keep her mind focused on what is best for her.
Another young women who came to us started out by saying her day had not gone well. She had been kicked out of her apartment. She has mental health issues and is a victim of trafficking. She said she was pregnant. We are very concerned for her safety. We tried to convince her to go to a place where we knew she would be off the street and safe. We would take her there, but she did not want to go. It is heartbreaking to hear stories such as this. Women on the street are so susceptible to being abused.
Please pray for and support this ministry.
Two of our social work students, Mariah and Sam who have been with us for over a year now, have developed their "people skills" and are doing well approaching and helping our street friends, especially the women that we encounter. Volunteering on the street is a great way to learn about people and their needs as well as how some people struggle with mental and physical afflictions as well as struggle with navigating the social service or the justice system. We are grateful for their willingness to be out with us.
Recently we received a call for assistance from someone in a nearby community who shared concerns of a young woman that they have been working with that has been and perhaps is still being trafficked. We hope to obtain more information about the individual and provide support and any services necessary.
We are reaching out to other agencies in Iowa and Minnesota that work directly with trafficking survivors and for several years have had a separate ministry for this population under our ministry for the homeless. The ministry is now called "Women Out of The Night". Plymouth Street Ministry / Women Out of The Night is the only organization in the region that provides direct care to victims who have been trafficked and are currently being trafficked. We are also working with women who are actively engaged in the sex trade in various locations throughout the Chippewa Valley. We are proud to work with these women and see their growth.
In addition to the Street Ministry and Women Out In The Night Ministry, we're also keeping up with the families we work with from Bolton Refuge House and Beacon House as well as working with individuals who are incarcerated in Eau Claire and the Wisconsin state prison system.
Please continue to support Plymouth Street Ministry and those we work with through prayer, sharing our stories and with donations. Without your support, we could not do what we do. Thank you so very much!
Karen - Street Nurse
Plymouth Street Ministry volunteers were out in full force this evening, we needed every person on hand as it was busy. Joining in our mission of caring for others were Brent, Jake, Mariah, Sam, Ashleigh, Barb, Becky, Michelle, Brian, and Pastor Mike.
There were several conversations going on simultaneously and I was unable to keep up with all of the stories. One woman I spoke with had been seeking assistance last summer at that time she had been pregnant and without shelter. She, her husband and brother in law had been staying in their vehicle and unsure of where they would end up. When I spoke with the woman tonight, she had delivered a baby girl about two months ago and reported that they had an apartment locally. She looked and sounded good, quite a transformation from a few months ago.
The young woman with the three children that we frequently write about arrived without the kids with her. I was hoping to spend some time with her but it didn't work out. I pray for her and the kids' safety every day.
Another young woman is struggling to feel safe wherever she is able to find shelter. She will occasionally stay at the shelter but also "couch surfs" whenever she can. Couch surfing is when a person, usually without permanent housing, goes from house to house for short periods of time. She looks exhausted she is scared of someone who is living in the house she stays at, she probably doesn't sleep well.
I spent the majority of my time talking with a middle aged woman who had traveled for four days on a bus from the southwestern United States. She explained that she left her home after being sexually assaulted, she left everything to get away from her abuser. She arrived with nothing but the clothes on her back and feels that this is a "good place". She has been in Eau Claire for three days, we gave information on important sites such as Community Table, the library and the hospital and the closest ER. She talked about being befriended by a man that none of us seemed to know and we talked firmly with her about being safe. We've mentioned before that women have a high incidence of being assaulted while being out on the street and its always a concern.
I spoke with the family that we -- with your assistance -- housed prior to their transition to the Beacon House. They had thought they would be moving to their transitional housing on the 15th but it was delayed until 4/22/16. They are anxious to get into a bigger living environment but are being patient. We have assured them that we will continue to be a means of support for them after they leave the shelter.
We had a good crew of workers: Becky, Brent, Brian, Larry, and Mike were there when I arrived at twenty to six, and Michelle arrived shortly after. The temperature was in the 30s but the wind, which was snapping flags and rattling metal signs, made it feel much colder. We had many visitors but few stayed long. It was simply not pleasant to stand in the wind, and the vans did little to block it. We served about 30 people, distributing bags with dry food, candy, juice, water, and a piece of fresh fruit. We also gave out socks and other clothing, and made a list of items or sizes we didn't have with us. We will try to bring those items on Tuesday.
I don't have many stories to tell, mostly because the visits were so short. I met a new visitor who has arrived from Mississippi. Brent brought a bag to him and we helped him with some warmer clothing. Another man, who appears to have some mental health problems, was back in town. We knew him from about two years ago--he told us that he had been in the Milwaukee area for a while. A third man was pleased to tell use about the new job at a horseradish farm. A fourth complained about the weather hurting his work--he works for a landscaping company and most of their work is on hold until it warms up. Each then hurried away to get out of the cold wind.
The shelter opened up around 7pm, and we left a few minutes after.
Please pray for, and care for, the poor.
It was a cold and wet night out on the street Tuesday, April 5th, with temps in the mid 30’s and light rain the entire time. Our friends on the street don’t get time off when the weather is bad, so we like to make sure we are out with them even on these more difficult days. There were four of us out tonight: Barb, Kim, Pastor Mike, and myself. We served roughly 30 people tonight.
Being a guy, I don’t work with the females that visit us too much – the female volunteers usually do that, but I did notice that one of the women that we have been helping regularly showed up on crutches, apparently due to a broken foot. I didn’t hear the whole story, but I do know that she has 3 small children, so please keep them in your prayers.
One of our friends that I hadn’t seen in a while was there – he tends to stay with friends instead of the shelter. It’s looking like he will be getting more permanent living arrangements soon which will enable him to regain partial custody of his son that was born last year. This seemed to be lifting his spirits somewhat.
We again gave out a few hoodies tonight, these seem to be one of the most requested things. Dry socks are also often requested on rainy nights like this.
It seems like, to me anyways, that there has been a rise in new people staying at the shelter in the past few weeks. Many with very noticeable mental health issues. Please keep these people in your prayers, so that they might get the help they need to help them get off the street. And a big THANK YOU again to all that donate to the Ministry! Every time I’m out on the street I see a difference being made in people’s lives.
Tonight was cold and rainy. On nights like this, most of the people we see stay inside wherever they can until they are allowed into the shelter at 7:00 p.m. Pastor Mike, Brent, Kim and I were there to listen and talk with those that stopped by to see us. Kim and I were kept busy talking with four women, three of which we have seen on a regular basis. One very young woman was new on the street and was not dressed for the weather, we did give her some gloves. She told us she does have a job. We are concerned for her safety.
The young mother with three small children that we have talked with and helped quite frequently was on crutches. She said she had a fracture that happened at work. In spite of this, she said that she would be able to be back to work the next day and seems to like her new job. Her children are staying with their grandma. She was staying with a girlfriend tonight and was not able to be with her kids because the dad was with them.
Another woman we talked with has found a place to live with a friend and the friend’s boyfriend. She hopes to go to school in August at the technical college for small engine repair. She told us it has been 3 years on the street and during that time has been doctoring and dealing with health issues.
The fourth woman that came to us was staying with a good friend and her husband. It did not sound like a stable situation. She would like to go back to the University and continue her classes, but has some financial issues to face first. She did say that she would be starting work in a couple of days.
It is very difficult to imagine the challenges these people are going through. Please pray and support this ministry.
The temperature was in the mid-to-upper 30s when I drove into the municipal parking lot at 5:40pm. Becky, Brent, Karen, Larry, and Mike were already there with two vans loaded with supplies. Also present were four youth and their leader from First Congregational Church--they had assembled the food bags we distributed tonight. Later in the evening Michelle and Rex also came and helped out. I arrived after our first couple of visitors had already been helped, but soon a young woman, her three children, and her friend arrived. The older children (two and three years old) had lots of energy. All three children looked under-dressed for the winter. The youth from First Congregational did a great job keeping the two older children busy while we found hats and gloves for the young children and also for the baby. Karen and Becky talked with the two women to find out their needs. (Karen has been working with and looking after the woman and her children for quite a while.) We didn't have all of the necessary clothing on hand, so Karen arranged to get the children's sizes so we can bring them clothing on Tuesday. They stayed for more than fifteen minutes, and then Becky drove them to the bus station. (I'm not sure, but I think they are all staying with a friend and were taking the evening bus to the friend's place.)
Things were then very calm for many minutes. We had the occasional visitor that we provided with food and water. A young man and young woman came by who asked for gloves and shoes. We gave them gloves and wrote down sizes for shoes, which we hope we will have by Tuesday. Another man asked for socks, which we provided. One of our old regulars stopped by. He has housing now and was in good spirits, despite having a kidney stone operation coming up soon. One of us mentioned that we were glad he found housing, and that he deserved to be off the street. He motioned to the group of homeless folks gathered in front of the shelter across the street and said, "So do all of them." We agreed.
As 7pm--the opening time of the shelter--grew near, the rate of visitors grew and we were quite busy. A woman arrived and seemed to be unable to hold still. She moved her head in a diagonal manner, almost a twitch. We have known her for many months and know that she has had many drug problems, especially with meth. Mike asked if she was on it now. She said no, but I suspect otherwise--she appeared to me to be under the influence of something. Mike talked with her for a while and told her to call him when she needed help. She used to call Mike often, especially when she was trying to break her addiction, but hasn't recently. While Mike talked with that woman, Karen was talking with another woman, who was complaining that her phone had been stolen recently. She also told of having been trafficked recently. I wasn't privy to the rest of the conversation but I hope that she can stay safe and keep away from predators, and I'm confident that Karen was trying to get her the resources she will need to be safe.
I didn't keep a count, but I'm guessing we helped 25 people tonight. It was almost a quarter after seven when we finally packed up and left.
Please pray for, and care for, the poor.
As George noted in his journal, we were fortunate to have visitors from First Congregational UCC with us this evening. I hope they enjoyed their experience in service with us and learned about our street congregation and the challenges they face. Pastor Mike and I have visited with the youth group at First Congregational weekly for three weeks and have enjoyed getting to know them. This group, as well as other youth groups we've spoken with, is insightful and aware of many of the injustices in the world. We have challenged them to come up with ways to help with issues of social justice in their schools and the community we share as well as in broader populations.
Shortly before we left for the evening, a young woman we've gotten to know arrived. I believe this woman is about 22 years of age, she graduated from a local high school and has been employed. There are some dynamics in her family that resulted in her being kicked out of the home and while she had occasionally used the home as a refuge when times were bad, that is no longer an option. She is staying with someone temporarily but is uncertain how long that will continue. We made small talk near the group but when I noticed the tears in her eyes and she whispered she wanted to share something, I separated her from the others to provide her the privacy and time she needed to share her story. She reported that she had been in a situation that she felt she could not get out of and she had sex with someone who demanded it in exchange for their help. She was not only embarrassed but also blamed herself for the incident, although she had told the person 'no' to the exchange. I tried to reassure her that no one deserves to be treated in that manner and that while she may have put herself in the environment, she'd done nothing to warrant that behavior from the other person.
I have no answers or solutions for this woman. I think its important to share her story to bring awareness and challenges that some of those we serve, especially women, face when they cannot meet their own needs. This is not the first time we've heard a story such as this and undoubtedly, it will not be the last. We will work with her to provide resources and support as she needs and I will update you as I can. The first assignment I gave her was to get in touch with social services in order to get her Badger-care back on track and then see her primary physician. She is agreeable to the plan and I'll be following up with her.
Another young woman and her boyfriend arrived close to the end of our visit, I've written about her and her baby who had been hospitalized as a result of her drug addictions. The woman looked happy and healthier than I've seen her in the past. In fact, I barely recognized her and was thrilled to see her in a different light. She reported that the infant had been discharged from the hospital and that if an appointment with social services went well, she would be able to see the baby. We learned that the child is blind and suspect he may have additional challenges as he grows. She was just as excited for her boyfriend to see the baby, my understanding was that he had not gotten to see the baby prior to the hospitalization. The hope they had this evening was giving them so much energy to go on.
In closing and with a happy note, we had a young woman with her three children come and visit us today, I've written about this family multiple times. I am so pleased with the continued sobriety that the mom has, over the last few weeks I've truly been amazed how well she looks and sounds. She is in a program that will help her find employment and provides childcare so that her children are getting some consistency and structure that they may have been needing. The children also look good, their smiles and laughter were good to see and hear and they thoroughly enjoyed the youth that were volunteering with us. I've been keeping an eye on this family since July 2015 and have had concerns several times about their safety and well-being. I pray that they will only get stronger and more stable.
Please keep these women, the children and all of those we work with in your thoughts and prayers.
Karen - Street Nurse
Several of the Plymouth Street Ministry volunteers spent the day on the UWEC campus to participate in theNorthwest Evangelical Lutheran Church of America conference, Walking Together. We were the fortunate recipient of many hygiene kits that the conference participants put together -- over 400 kits! The supplies for the kits were provided for by Thrivent Financial for Lutherans. We were honored to be recognized as an organization worthy of support.
There were about forty workshops throughout the day that various people or churches provided. One workshop was entitled "Women United Against Human Trafficking", the presenters were Rev. Diane House -- pastor of Holy Cross Lutheran Church in Elmwood, WI; Amy Hartman -- director of Cherish All Children, MN; and Rev. Cindy Crane -- director of the Lutheran Office for Public Policy of Wisconsin. The women spoke of the injustice in our country and state regarding human trafficking. Plymouth Street Ministry brought a young woman that we've come to know with a difficult history, which included being trafficked, to share her story. While she was extremely nervous initially, she was amazing and we were all very proud of her. Perhaps the experience was a step in her healing process, we were thrilled to see the beautiful smile on her face!
After lunch we proceeded to the room that we were scheduled to speak in. Pastor Mike spoke of how and why the ministry began, Dr. Ken Adler of the Chippewa Valley Free Clinic spoke of the development of the Free Clinic as well as progress being made in the need for cooperative landlords for housing. There is often funding available and housing available, but there seems to be a shortage of landlords willing to rent to people who may have previous evictions in their history or criminal backgrounds. Suzanne Becker of Feed My People spoke about the food program that we participate in. Suzanne also shared the history of Feed My People: it started as a group effort of five churches to alleviate hunger in the community. They have grown to serve much of northwest Wisconsin from small organizations to corporations. Also speaking were our volunteers: Brent spoke about the benefits of having people on the street who can talk about addictions or disabilities, Barb shared information about the availability of children's clothing and diapers at the clothing closet at Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd, Michelle spoke about the importance of the sense of friendship and family we provide, and I spoke about the need to treat those we serve with unconditional dignity and respect. Again, we were honored to be a part of the conference. We believe in what we do and want to share that with others.
After the conference we had the task of transporting the 400 + hygiene kits, a task that we are so very grateful for. We put in some long hours preparing for the day but in the end, it was all worth it.
Plymouth Street Nurse
We were blessed with a multitude of volunteers this evening: Brent, Jake, Kim, Ashleigh, Becky, Pastor Mike, Larry, and Mariah. We also had a middle school student and his mother from First Congregational UCC, where we've been talking to the youth group to educate them on what we do.
The woman that I've written about several times over the last 7 months who has an infant and two toddlers stopped by, she looked better than she has in several months. I was so pleased with her appearance and her behavior, she's been to treatment and has remained sober. Our conversation was different than its been in the past, she was realistic about hopes and goals and seemed less angry. I pray that she can stay on the path of sobriety.
A group of three women came by early in the evening. One woman was a regular last summer. She reported that she had obtained employment and housing but due to untreated ADHD and other mental illness, she had lost her job which resulted in a loss of housing so she's having to start over. I strongly encouraged her to renew her medical assistance so that she could obtain healthcare and medication, she is receptive of the suggestion but there is a sense of hopelessness about her. Her friend that was with her reported that her child was in a foster home voluntarily, however her story left me with more questions than answers. She has been coming regularly, I'm certain we'll learn more in the coming weeks. The third woman appeared to be pregnant but she did not take part in any conversation with us.
Our evening was relatively quiet, we served approximately 25 people. One woman shared that her daughter was getting married the next day and she was the way to the rehearsal dinner. Sometimes I forget that the people we serve have more than just survival on their minds and that they try to live as "normal" as a life as possible. I hope she enjoyed the festivities and for a short time forgot about her reality.
Please continue to pray for those we serve as well as for continued support for the ministry. We appreciate all of you!
Plymouth Street Nurse
We served about 26 people, some of whom we've known for a very long time, the others for just a few visits. Its good to catch up with each person and hear the news of their lives and their hopes and dreams. Often, we're the only contacts that the people have that will listen without judgment. One of the most important services we provide is that we treat those we serve with respect and dignity, whether they live on the street or are in jail, have been victims of trafficking or are living very challenged lives. When someone feels respect, they're more likely to share their stories and sometimes, their stories are all they have.
One young man we spoke with was very downtrodden. We'd seen him with a young woman in the mddle of February and she had told us very excitedly that they were going to get married in March. She apparently had a change of heart and broke off the relationship. This young man was very sad, he came to us not wanting anything other than to talk. The drizzle and cooler temperature made the situation seem even more depressing.
The young and petite woman I wrote about approximately a week ago returned, we gave her some clothing that she'd requested. Her mood was very upbeat, she reported that her child had been discharged from the hospital. She has some addictions she'll have to conquer to reunite with him. She may be small in stature but she's a strong woman and will survive this chapter in her life.
The family that we cooperatively housed is still at Beacon House and doing well. They had a tire issue on their vehicle that we (including you!) took care of. They came to visit one night, the kids look great! I sincerely hope that they get permanent housing soon and these two little ones have memories of all of the good people that were in their lives rather than situation itself. I believe that the parents are still in awe that total strangers came to their aid and they continue to be very grateful.
If you are interested in volunteering or have any question about the Street Ministry, please let us know!
Thank you for your continued interest and support in the ministry, please continue to pray for those we serve and all others in need.
We had nine volunteers out in the parking lot tonight--Ashleigh, Brent, Jacob, Karen, Kim, Larry, Michelle, Mike, and I--and we were all busy. When I arrived at 5:45 there were already a few visitors at the vans, and soon there were many. It is almost March and we are still distributing lots of winter clothing. Tonight it was gloves, jackets, hooded sweatshirts, long underwear, and socks. While some of us were talking to visitors others were handing out bags of food or hunting for the needed sizes of clothing.
Mike is highly regarded on the street. One woman, a regular visitor, brought another homeless woman up to the van and introduced her to Mike, "This is Pastor Mike--he can help you." A few minutes later the scene repeated as yet another homeless person brought another newcomer and said that this is where you go to to get help. We served around forty people tonight, and that number included quite a few I had never seen before. While it is good that word about Plymouth Street Ministry is getting around, I think all of us long for the day when we are put out of business because there are no more homeless people.
It's always nice to have some good news, and one homeless man brought it. He had signed a lease on an apartment and moves in a few days. He was counting down his last few days in the shelter and talking dreamily about having his own bed.
I met a man from Mississippi. He had a long story and I only caught part of it. His wife has been up here for awhile--she has family in the area--and he came up to help her. He has a number of health problems, however, and the two of them found themselves on the street and in the shelter. He mentioned how the temperature seemed so cold to him (it was in the low 30s tonight), yet everyone else was telling him how warm it was. We outfitted him with some warmer clothing and some hand warmers and he was very grateful.
Our women volunteers were kept especially busy. Homeless women are much more likely to open up to other women--which isn't at all surprising, especially considering all of the sexual abuse that happens on the street--so we try to have the women volunteers talk with the women visitors, and tonight we had many homeless women visitors. Two of them were very young. One of them was distraught--she had a baby in the hospital and, additionally, was carrying the weight of many other problems. Several of the women talked with her for a long time. Mike didn't want her going across the street with those waiting for the shelter to open until the last minute, so Kim sat and talked with her in the front seat of one of the vans for many minutes. When the woman left she was crying as she hugged Kim and several of the other women volunteers. I think all of us were close to tears, and I had only heard a small bit of her story.
A few minutes after seven the shelter doors opened and our crowd disappeared. We left around five after seven.
Please pray for, and care for, the poor.
Plymouth Street Ministry Journal--Friday, Feb. 26, 2016
It isn't often that both George and I write journal notes for the same evening. If you read George's journal you have already learned that it was a very busy evening. In the time that I've been going out on the street, I have never experienced so many women coming to us in one evening. We shared laughter, tears, hugs and conversation with these ladies and have concerns about all of them in one regard or another. A woman we've gotten to know over the last few months has gotten housing through an agency program, we are so very happy for her! We've watched her transition from initially a relatively upbeat attitude to one of depression. Her daughter passed away due to a domestic abuse incident in December and since then, she has been quite despondent. She was finding less and less support from people she thought she could trust and was trying to stay to herself. Somehow she found the energy to contact an agency and has been accepted into a program that will get her off of the street, she's already found an apartment and will be moving in on March 1st. It was a delight to see new energy in her and the sparkle return to her eyes. She has some physical challenges and uses a walker, it will be good for her to have more saftey and stability.
We met a young woman that knew Pastor Mike from previous years but had been away from Eau Claire for some time. My first thought was that she was just a child, she is tiny in stature and she cannot weigh more than a hundred pounds. She had a sweatshirt and a vest on, no coat that I could see, and jeans. After speaking with her, it quickly became clear that she was an adult. She shared that she was struggling with some addictions and that her baby is hospitalized with a poor prognosis. This young woman connected with one of our new UWEC volunteers, Kim, and they spoke privately for quite some time. When the shelter was about to open and it was time for the young woman to leave us, hugs and tears were shared, it was a very touching moment. We are deeply concerned for this woman and hope she will keep in touch with us. We jotted down some of her needs to take care of and bring to her the next time we're out. One thing she requested that we do not have in our storeroom is size 0 jeans.
Yet another woman arrived in need of clothing and other requests. Some items we had with us, others will be delivered on our next outing. This woman has seven children, one as young as six months of age and others as teenagers. We were so busy trying to accommodate her needs that we didn't get her complete story. When she returns we'll talk again and find out more about her and her situation. Typically, we take care of basic needs and try to get information as we go. Often, it takes time to build the trust and rapport for people to want to share their stories. This woman seemed willing to talk, we just didn't ask the questions yet and as busy as it was with both men and women, there wasn't a great deal of privacy.
There were others, as well: the woman we've watched over for many months with significant health and mobility issues, a young woman with a toddler who isn't in need of shelter but in great need of guidance, and another woman that came to Eau Claire last summer and seems to get herself involved in scams and unhealthy relationships. I believe she has such great desire to feel loved and needed that she makes decisions that are not always healthy or safe. We are not there to fix their problems but be a source of support and walk beside them through this journey.
We had many volunteers this evening, nine in all. We absolutely needed every person and while we worked efficiently, there were times it seemed we needed more help. Our two new UWEC social work students, Kim and Ashleigh, worked hard this evening and I am very proud of their efforts and willingness to help and learn. The Street Ministry provides a unique learning environment that is not available anywhere else in Eau Claire. Kim and Ashleigh, as well as our other students, Mariah, Sam, and Jake, have been gifts to the ministry and we are grateful for joining our other dedicated volunteers.
If you are interested in volunteering with us, please contact Pastor Mike. We try to share details of our evenings in our journals but there's no way to accurately convey the emotions, the sights and smells or the joys we experience. Sometimes, its just best to be there.
Thank you for your interest and support in the Street Ministry! Please pray for those we serve as well as all of those giving their time, talents, and gifts -- including you!