It’s the little things everyday people take for granted that contribute most to the alienation homeless people experience. A warm bath. A cold drink of water. A quick bite to eat on one’s way out the door to work. Just having clean clothes to put on before going to work or school.
For many of our homeless, even those things pale in comparison to just having a soft bed to lay down in after a long, hard day.
Our homeless population experiences the longest and hardest of days and a hopelessness many of us never experience. It is a perilous, harsh and many times lonely day.
Tami Fleming is one Dane County resident who has spent a lifetime making sure none of the homeless in and around Madison experience those days alone.
On Tuesday, Catholic Charities announced that Fleming will lead and coordinate volunteers when the new Homeless Day Resource Center opens in downtown Madison this fall.
For Catholic Charities, the decision to name Fleming as Volunteer Coordinator was an easy choice. For Fleming, it is the continuation of many hours already spent working on behalf of the least fortunate.
Fleming has headed up volunteer-based organizations like the Friends of the State Street Family, which has provided everything from healthy meals to sleeping bags hundreds of homeless people. Figuring out what people’s needs were and practical ways to meet them is the staple of the Friends of the State Street Family.
Now, Fleming wants to bring those same principals to the Day Resource Center.
“Just being able to get a shower or wash your clothes are big things,” Fleming said. “The ability to go to appointments without having to ride the bus all day. To eat and have your basic needs fulfilled. Those are things that make the time spent being homeless a lot shorter.”
Fleming says that in the past people had to scatter all across the city to do things like eat, go to job fairs or interviews, do laundry, get a shower. Often times it would take a person all day just to accomplish a couple of those things let alone all of them.
Having a one stop shop for those resources is something Dane County has needed for years.
Jackson Fonder, the CEO of Catholic Charities, says the Day Center is expected to open in October. Fonder explained that the Day Center will have a number of resources spread out over two floors. The first floor is expected to have basic needs services such as laundry, showers, bathrooms, snack and lunch facilities, as well as separate facilities for homeless families to have privacy and safety.
The second floor will have services provided by sponsors of the Day Center. Resources such as mental health care, case management, resume building, job interview training and addiction treatment will be provided.
“We’re as excited as the rest of the Madison Community about the Day Resource Center,” Fonder said. “Madison has been asking for this for a long time.”
Fonder also said that the Day Center, which has yet to be given an official name, may also provide transportation to and from places like Porchlight and homeless shelters to the Day Center so that people won’t have to worry about travel.
Derrick Smith, the Director of Strategic Planning at Catholic Charities, says the Day Center is a huge win for the community but that it isn’t the end of the battle.
“One of the things the community knows is that this is only one attempt at helping the homeless,” Smith said. “We are hoping that how we go about this will prompt people to say we need more centers like this around the community.”
Smith also pointed out that the initiative to build the Day Center was representative of a lot of diversity. Over half of the homeless residents utilizing the Shelter at Bethel Lutheran in Madison are from the African-American community. Smith said that he wants all of the community to benefit from the help of the Day Center and that having an ethnically diverse set of volunteers is one of the goals the resource center will achieve.
Smith said the Day Center will be open daily from 8am-5pm every day of the year. With those types of hours coupled with the needs of the community, Smith said they will need over 20 volunteers per day.
“We’re looking for about 30,000 hours a year for volunteers,” Tami Fleming said. “We need people who can come in and help individuals stabilize themselves. I will be doing the training of the volunteers. We also want to honor any special skill sets volunteers have already.”
Fleming said the volunteers will spend most of their time helping meet the basic needs of the homeless at the Day Center. Things such as monitoring health, serving lunch and washing clothes will be part of the duties each volunteer will have.
Anyone wanting to become a volunteer can sign up at Helpmadisonhomeless.org.
Tami Fleming, Jackson Fonder and Derrick Smith all understand this center represents to the beginning of tackling the problem of homelessness in Dane County, not the end. More than anything else they realize they cannot and do not stand alone in their fight against homelessness.
But in the lives of perhaps the loneliest among our population, just having one person volunteer to help makes all the difference in the world.
This piece was produced by a student reporter in the Madison365 Academy. To learn more and support our education programs visit madison365.org/academy.