The Question and Answer Group
by Ronnie Barbett
Arriving here in Madison nearly seven months ago and homeless, I am learning how to survive from the best this city has to offer. The beautiful weather during the month of June last year prompted me into doing my favorite exercise – I walked all over this city from the capitol square to East Town, the square to Park Street out to the beltline highway, and cutting around the Brittingham Park area by way of John Nolen Drive. In a month’s time here after I arrived, I could claim this city as my own….residency in 28 days, according to the Wisconsin Department of Transportation.
No problem…homeless people everywhere…in cars, Winnebagoes, with bicycles locked to trees, sleeping bags stuffed anyplace hidden from view. I met people like me in the parks at night, sitting on wooden benches around the lake, people standing on State Street, Langdon Street, in front of and inside the capitol building, the library, and the Memorial Union. After talking with them and sleeping among them, and gathering valuable information by the all important communication method of the homeless – word of mouth, the churches and organizations that provide help to the city’s homeless were mentioned.
We eventually avoid any and all “no trespassing” signs and the best places to hang out where people different from you, ignore you. You would think the use of bathrooms would come under the label of customer service, but you are not a customer at some places if you don’t make a purchase. If you’re in a “homeless friendly” place, you’re in heaven. The way they treat you as if you’re an equal is amazing. You body odor and street appearance is ignored. It’s nice to go to the Subway sandwich shop, Starbuck’s on the square, your local libraries, and other places I don’t dare mention…just to waste the day away. At night, the shelter is waiting for you. There is a way to survive in this city for everyone.
I found two homeless lovers in the doorway of the Home Savings Bank on the square one day. They told me that the Capitol Police does not let anyone sleep outside anywhere around the Wisconsin State Capitol. There’s a lonely lady that camps out on the metal black bench in front of Quizno’s Sub shop. She doesn’t bother anybody and nobody bothers her. The homeless people on State Street are quick to tell you not to sleep inside the Metro bus shelters. If you have a bicycle, you can park at night on any side of town to camp outside as you please.
Bikers have their sleeping gear attached to their vehicles. Fishing gear, a recycle tow-cart, extra bags are hooked up in a way to travel and survive being homeless. Homeless women with children are a top priority in Madison…places provided with and without special services. Food pantries at the churches are especially for them.
This city is full of the homeless from all walks of life. The veterans, the mentally and physically challenged, the children of homeless people, too, are all out here. I now look forward to going out and meeting with all the humanitarian and service organizations whose civic duty and chosen vocation is to provide relief to this predicament. I will write to you about them as I learn more about them. Meanwhile, consider that homeless people are a great source of information about your city because they know it in a most personal way. Use them for all their worth. They are your question and answer group.