I’d like to take a little time to reflect on a unique experience I had last week. I volunteered to go out into the community to count and give care packages to the homeless in the area.
The purpose of the count was to reach out to homeless individuals and families and to compile accurate information for a number of reports that have a significant impact on the amount of funding that Rock County, Wisconsin receives each year to combat homelessness.
I must admit, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I was a bit hesitant because of the thought of going out into the frigid winter weather was, well scary. Plus, the fact that we’d be out all night until 4 in the morning seemed scary too.
Interesting, right? Indeed it was. Over 60 people came together at 11 pm last Wednesday. We formed groups, packed our cars with care packages and set out into the night.
We covered every area we could in our 4-hour search. Every park, bridge, construction site, parking lot … we even scoped out local pubs and bars. No one. But that’s a good thing, right? As I walked the streets, bundled head to toe, I couldn’t help but wonder how anyone could sleep in 10 degree wind chills (the week before it was -10) with only a sleeping bag.
Our crew found 21 homeless people in Rock County (including South Beloit). A majority were sleeping under bridges in Beloit. And trying to stay warm at local convenience stores and coffee shops. One of the volunteers even found a meth lab and heroin remnants in the downtown Janesville. Eek!
It is scary. When you grab your morning latte and drive to work listening to your favorite morning show or gab on your cell, you don’t really see homelessness.
Just because you don’t see homeless people like you see in some urban cities and urban communities, doesn’t mean they’re not there. That’s probably one of my biggest take-a-ways. The stigma about what a homeless person acts or looks like is simply not the reality.
One of my fellow group members and friend, Stacy, who happened to be a local news reporter, covered our experiences. She said it best, “As I ate pancakes at Perkins with my friends after the long night, I kept thinking about those people with nowhere to go. I hope they found warm breakfasts, and I hope the community finds ways to help them. Because the thought of so many people living on the streets is scary.”
Last Wednesday night was really rough. But it was so rewarding, and something I plan to do again. Just one way I can give back to my community.
Do you do your part? How do you give back to your community and those less fortunate?