By Ana Martinez-Ortiz
Nine hundred and thirty. That’s how many people are homeless in the city of Milwaukee or at least that was the number as of July 2017, according to the semiannual Point In Time count conducted by Milwaukee’s Continuum of Care group.
Nine hundred and thirty is a large number, but Street Angels, a Milwaukee Outreach program believes there are even more. This past Saturday on Nov. 18, the group organized an event in Zelder Park to raise awareness of the number of homeless people in Milwaukee.
The event occurred during National Homeless and Hunger Week. The flyer urged Milwaukee residents to, “Please help us bring visibility to our invisible neighbors.” It also called for 930 individuals to come and stand as representatives for the homeless.
Shelly Sarasin, the co-founder of Street Angels, explained the goal was to have people stand in a line across the city streets. Since the number is so large, it would’ve created a powerful and visible representation that spanned the streets of Milwaukee.
Unfortunately, since the event was planned last minute, it didn’t quite reach the desired number. However, Sarasin remarked that roughly 25 people showed up and among them were their homeless friends.
Those who did show held signs.
“Being homeless is not a crime, the fact it exists should be,” one said. Another said, “Housing is a human right,” and yet another said, “1000-1500 on any given night are homeless in Milwaukee.”
Street Angels began back in March 2016. It was co-founded by Sarasin and Eva Welch, who is also president of the group.
The group’s focus is to provide the homeless society of Milwaukee with blankets, hot meals and above all, hope. They work hard to advocate for the homeless but are quick to point out that the homeless often advocate for themselves. Welch explained they try to direct them towards resources that can help whether thats shelters or a food bank.
Sarasin and Welch are assisted in their mission by a group of volunteers. Together they gather in Wauwatosa and make their way to the south side. Some of their stops include downtown and Bay View.
“There’s no zip code border on homelessness,” Sarasin said.
And it’s true, one out of every three people lives in poverty, and Milwaukee’s streets are filled with homeless people. It’s a matter of looking around and opening one’s eyes to the problem that many people dwelling in Milwaukee are without a home and even deprived of an empty bed in a shelter. Instead, they find solace at bus stops and doorways covering their faces in blankets if they have one to shelter themselves from winter’s bitter winds.
According to Sarasin, Street Angels’ social media presence helps them spread the word and spread it quickly. Every day they post updates, including upcoming events.
While the group works diligently in providing blankets and other resources, they also encourage other people to do the same.
There are two simple actions people can take when they see somebody, Sarasin said. The first is to simply say hello even if it’s passing. Although, she encourages them to take a moment and chat if they can spare a few minutes. The second is to reach out to Street Angels and inform them of that person’s location so Street Angels can provide the proper assistance.
If someone wishes to take it a step further, they can call the Mayor or Congress and urge them to find a solution.
In the weeks to come, Street Angels will be preparing for an event for the homeless society of Milwaukee to attend on Christmas Eve. They also plan to find a way to bring heat warmers onto the streets, create more shelters, which are getting hit by a budget cut, and continue to provide support and assistance to the homeless society of Milwaukee.
Being homeless does not equate to non-existent, but it is a sign to work hard and find a solution because nobody deserves to be without a place to call their own.