Last week I joined a hearty group of volunteers for the Point In Time Count. At least 4 of us from First Congo joined dozens of others as we did our best to survey the Fox Cities, on foot when possible, seeking out those who might be sheltering in their cars, in parking ramps, or in local parks. On a cold night in January, 12 individuals were discovered on the streets. Combined with those already in area shelters, the total count for the evening of those known to be homeless was around 350.
My group encountered only one individual, but the experience of walking the streets of downtown Appleton between 2:00 AM and 5:00 AM was truly enlightening. Our group leader was a young man who works with homeless veterans. When we encountered an elderly gentleman on College Ave., our group leader gently encouraged him to accept the offer of a warm meal back at the Salvation Army office. We gave him a pair of gloves and a blanket while we waited for his transportation to arrive. As we moved on, our leader shared that this was one of the veterans he had helped over the past several years, to the point that the man had transitioned to a stable housing environment about a year ago. But circumstances changed, and that stability didn’t last.
What impressed me most was the compassionate care offered without question or judgment by the younger man, and later the conversations I saw unfold with staff from other agencies at the end of our shift. It was clear these staff members from Homeless Connections, Fox Valley Warming Shelter, COTS, Salvation Army, Housing Partnership, etc. really know and care about the individuals they serve. I was reminded in a new way that thinking about those who are homeless as one community, and those who provide resources as one community, is wrong thinking. We are all one community. We have so much to learn from each other.
This week, I had the privilege of serving alongside several First Congo volunteers at the Fox Valley Warming Shelter. The 30+ individuals who came through the line included a few I had seen a week ago. I’m so thankful for those of you who give so much of your time to our community, and the ways you inspire me to think differently and more compassionately and inclusively about this life we all share.
Your friend and fellow traveler along life’s way,