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All of Us Are One

The Sarah Gillmore Plan

The Sarah Gillmore Plan

It wasn’t just a new idea that has never been tried. I’m sure of that because I’ve been here and I’ve been there in this city. A few ideas, or should I call them “programs,” like hers have been in place and going on for some time. If you’ve never been to a church outreach dinner…there. you are standing in line as the volunteers serve you with a smile. If you look behind the volunteers serving you on the front lines, you’ll notice their support staff doing a variety of things to make sure everything goes off smooth. Honestly! It’s chaos in motion, soon to be over, then you break the set-up down and go home. I find it hard to believe that these people are not paid. I also find it hard to believe that when their leader calls them, they return to do it again.

Now I get to mention my two favorite places. The First United Methodist Church and Bethel Lutheran Church, both outstanding places of worship here in downtown Madison, they also do so much on the side. My point regarding these and all the churches around town is this – you guys do a fantastic job coordinating all your volunteers in providing the services that you do. I’m one of the homeless, and you’re a friend of mine. All the churches here are special. When it comes to receiving your services, it seems to me that your limits, rules, and regulations in regards to obtaining these services are locked behind closed doors out of view. You people make it so easy to come to you. Thanks!!!

I want to point out something going on that might be overshadowed because maybe it is looked at as a lost cause. The use of volunteers, especially that “seem” well trained and willing to serve others for free, is not just a religious event. Sarah Gillmore has proven that. If I am correct, she has presented a proposal that would let her operate an interim day warming center with little or no paid staff. The shelter operations are mostly to be accomplished with the homeless themselves. The homeless people were given a building to stay warm in during the cold winter to spring (temporarily).

The Day Warming Center got off to a fantastic start from its support organizations that deals with homelessness, joining forces to take care of those needing assistance to better their lives. The foodshare representative, Laura Weichart, drops by offering outreach that’s very valuable to the homeless men, women with children, and couples struggling day to day to buy needed vitals while on the streets. The Quest card program helps in supporting those in a low-income lifestyle. The Health Hut came by giving flu shots to those that wanted them. Free medical referrals on the side. Carlos was very helpful.

Mary Maronek on some days, Whitney on some days, and often Sarah herself on some days, can be found inside the computer resource room at the Center assisting with job searches, resume preparations, obtaining any information concerning the needs of the homeless in the improvement of their situation. Help is always a one-on-one personal situation. Gail Bliss of the League of Women Voters often drops by to insure easy access to getting birth certificates or a social security card. When we are out of bus passes, Nate, James or Meg find time to drive people to their appointments. Meghan Snitkin of the Veteran’s Administration makes herself available to those vets needing all kinds of counseling and referral services and handles their needs well. It wasn’t easy for her either. Most veterans wouldn’t come forward to talk to her. It took awhile…maybe it was her personality and that persistent smile of hers that got her in with some vets. I’m not sure…she even got got an introduction from Meg Rothstein to meet and discuss with Mr. Kenneth Payne. He is not just another homeless vet…he wasn’t homeless but was insistent on a shelter for homeless vets only. Mr. Payne met with Meghan and they moved on from there. It didn’t all start at the Day Warming Center…the Center provided a spingboard to hopefully a new and better idea for supporting homeless vets.

There are many supporting organizations represented at our Day Center. Porchlight gave us Sina Davis, a woman that some time found her way around our kitchen, assisting (nobody asked her to) from prep of menus to dishing out. Sina’s main job is outreach by way of Porchlight, Inc. She was instrumental in giving advice to people, as well as providing bus passes. She assisted in the paperwork process need to obtain transitional housing and job searches. Sina came out of nowhere it seems, and ended up as one of Sarah’s elite, going out of her way to attend a “homeless issues” meeting to state the value of this Day Center. We all want this Center to continue as a viable resource for helping us help ourselves. Keep this in mind – Sarah’s volunteers give her time to do her work…one-on-one counseling with people that are dealing with complex issues regarding their lives.

As a homeless volunteer, my duties include helping this Day Center run as smooth as it can. I was at the front desk while the incoming count reach over 100 per day. Terry Kramer, the kitchen manager, cleans, preps and serves the food donated. Terry has a crew of sometimes three or more, and I have help by my side as well. People volunteer as needed, all with Sarah’s permission and supervision. When the donations come in, we assist as appreciative homeless should – we unload, stack, and take care during the handling of whatever comes in. We assist. Pro Labor Dei, Anne Gipneski, Cheryl Hayes, Savory Sunday, Make Food Not Bombs, The Way Home, and the many others do not get in our way, and we get out of their way to let them do what makes them happy. They serve and they give with a smile. Yes! Sarah visits the kitchen, too. When she opens the Center doors in the early morning, who makes the best coffee? You guessed it. She’s the winner. She inspires all the homeless to volunteer for cleaning up the place, setting up for meeting sessions, outside trash removal, and whatever is needed. She has her friends and associates drop by, contributing services and even some advice. Dorothy Krause is mostly in on the complete setup of this Day Center. It’s her curtains, tables, chairs, the complete women with children’s area, lockers and lots more stuff she “stole” from some place else.

In the housing department comes our homeless advocate, Brenda Konkel, with housing and apartment updates. I can’t believe her resourcefulness – she brings listings for the cheapest apartments, as well as the affordable motels around this city. She was part of Sarah’s plan, and Sarah’s plan as I have now proven to you was well thought out, carefully considered, to work with homeless volunteers and all her personal resources she came in with. Her right hand man, Z! Haukeness, with Nate Abrams, provided a program that was unique in that it empowers people it serves. We govern ourselves. The meetings set up by Sarah internally at this Day Center (town hall meetings, advisory panel, the homeless advocacy group, discussions on day-to-day operations) are under Mr. Haukeness’ control. He left it up to the homeless to provide ideas for a better run center.

It wasn’t smooth sailing all the time though. We have our Daytime Warming Center critic watching over us all the time. The Rainbow Project keeps an eye on us as well. Police activity every other day only serves to remind us of the undesirable element that lives among us. People are going to try to do what they can get away with. They are a handful on most days…what you as a spectator must remember.

The people deserving of this Day Warming Center got what the Department of Human Resources wanted them to have – housing, jobs, counseling, information to get ahead was issued. You can’t save everybody on a sinking ship, and the captain shouldn’t have to go down with it.

A wide range of opportunities exists here with all the volunteers donating what they have to give. Mary and the other spiritual healers that come present their program. Whitney and Meg provides sideline assisted programs to individuals that sign up for them. The Briarpatch, the Tellurian, the Tenney-Lapham Neighborhood Association representatives come to do their part also. I hope Sarah Gillmore’s plan goes on notice to all that could benefit her taking a chance on the homeless being empowered.

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About Operation Welcome Home

OWH is a group of homeless people in Madison, WI and their allies organizing around the root causes of homelessness- racism, poverty, and criminalization. We are fighting for housing, jobs, and an end to the criminalization of poverty.

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