A community effort – and the generosity of First United Methodist Church – made for a warm and well-fed New Years Eve day for 138 homeless people in Madison on Tuesday.
The call for a warming space during two frigid days that coincided with locked doors at Madison's Central Library and the homeless services program at Bethel Lutheran Church, came on Monday afternoon, said Karen Andro, director of outreach ministries at FUM.
“We were supposed to be closed this week, but I put in a plea to my boss,” Andro said Tuesday afternoon as volunteers were cleaning up the kitchen at the church at 203 Wisconsin Ave., just off the Capitol Square.
The church hosts a community breakfast each Monday and Wednesday and prepared a Christmas meal. A foresighted Andro froze holiday leftovers and had other surplus food prepared and frozen on the chance they would be needed during the cold weather. They were.
FUM served breakfast and lunch Tuesday — and connected people with resources — with the help of about 20 volunteers from a variety of programs serving the homeless: Friends of the State Street Family, Bethel Lutheran Homeless Ministry, Outreach LGBT Community Center, Tellurian UCAN outreach, the Shine Initiative and others.
The Madison homeless services community was left scrambling because there is no permanent day shelter, despite several years of planning and a $600,000 allocation by Dane County.
“I heard some harsh words today: ‘Why isn’t the city? Why isn’t the county?’ But in time of emergency, let’s do what needs to be done,” Andro said. “When we open a day center, we’ll need people from different support systems to come together like they did today. I am in total gratitude.”
Dane County Board member Heidi Wegleitner, a vocal advocate for homeless services, acknowledged that “we seem always to be kind of in a scramble” to cover emergencies.
“We need better planning and communication,” she said Tuesday. A “point person” to coordinate homeless services among public and private agencies in exigent circumstances would be helpful, Wegleitner said, adding she didn’t know what existing staff person could absorb those duties or where funds would come from to hire someone new.
“We’ve made a policy commitment and have amazing volunteers and a concerned community. But without the staff to coordinate, it’s really challenging,” said Wegleitner, one of several advocates who put out the word on social media looking for hosts and volunteers.
Fountain of Life Covenant Church on Madison’s south side will open its doors as a day shelter Wednesday on New Year’s Day, said pastor Kevin Evanco. “We’ll set up a TV to watch the Badgers game.”
“It’s too cold not to do it,” Evanco said Tuesday, adding that he planned to have snacks and hot drinks on hand for about 50 homeless people.
Porchlight, Inc. was scheduled to operate a van from the Capitol Square area to Fountain of Life at 633 Badger Road in the morning and back downtown in the late afternoon. The Capitol, open every day of the year, also will be open to the public its regular hours on Wednesday, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
A recent essay by Fountain of Life senior pastor Alex Gee, calling Madison to account for failing its African-American community, spurred a tremendous call for better coordination among a variety of public and private institutions.
“Clearly, now, we as a church will have to step up all the more,” Evanco said. The church recently completed an addition to the church, and Evanco anticipates the congregation may soon begin offering meals to fill in gaps in services to the homeless and the poor in South Madison and expand on a long-standing partnership with The Road Home to occasionally shelter homeless families at its facility.
“If we are not serving the disenfranchised, what are we doing?” he asked. “We can have great music or a new facility, but that is not what we are called to do.”