Madison Homelesness hits the ‘burbs

After 15 years of being homeless, North side resident Andrew Johnson* has learned to cope, by asking for help.

“You’ve got to do what you’ve got to do, I don’t like to but you’ve got to”

As the problem of homelessness persists, Madison’s homeless, like Johnson are relying on community services.

In 2010, over 3,800 people were served in the Dane County homeless system, according to Sue Wallinger of the Department of Planning Economic and Community Development. Over 1200 of these were men.

“The reasons for homelessness are so varied depending on the population,” Wallinger said. “Some are partly economic, either they can’t find a job or they aren’t skilled enough to get a job.”

For 15 years, Andrew has struggled to find steady employment. Johnson has applied at various Restaurants and stores along Northport Drive, including a Pierce’s and a McDonald’s. “They don’t hire” he said.

Major charities in the area include Porch light and the Dane County Job centre, which offers patrons computers for job searches.

“They have a lot of housing on the north side, a lot of services to get people back on their feet,” Wallinger said of Porch light, a large community service group in Madison.

The Hospitality House is one of the agencies of the Porch light foundation; Hassan Mohr is one of its co-ordinators. The hospitality house helps clients by offering rent money and bill payment assistance. Appointments for job-search training and money for transport fares are also offered to homeless at the facility.  

Organizations like the Hospitality House provide useful resources to homeless job applicants, including cell phones and a mailing address.

“People can use this as a mailing address for potential employers; we also take messages for folks” Mohr said. “You need to have an address to take care of business”

The homeless face many challenges as they’re looking for work.

“Issues with a sub-population of the homeless include problems with mental health and drug and alcohol addiction” said Mohr.

The Hospitality house receives funding from the State government, local churches and civic groups, including the Rotary Club. “On a typical month you can get just as much from agency funding as church groups” said Mohr.

The Hospitality House has had to reduce some services some of its services after losing funding. “Over the years we’ve had job counsellors” said Mohr. “We lost funding for that last year”

Not all churches and civic groups are as involved with the homeless in the North side. Sherman Avenue Methodist is a community church on the North side. Some homeless sleep in the woodlands off of Warner Park, a baseball park which is not far from the church.

Sherman Avenue Methodist offers Wednesday night services for local immigrant populations, particularly Hmong. Though it provides a free meal for about seven mothers and up to 30 children on Wednesday nights, Pastor Daniel Madden is still surprised by the large number of homeless gathering in Warner Park.

“We feed everybody. The moms show up for introductory English classes. Our involvement in homelessness is limited; twice a month, we plan the meals given out at Grace Episcopal church (in Central Madison)”

Yet the grim reality of Madison homelessness continues for Andrew, who has witnessed fighting, thefts, even stabbings. “I don’t want to end up in the obituaries” he says.

Daniel Nour

*Name changed

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