Marquette Wire

MUPD and Street Life Communities help homeless

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For 176 consecutive Saturdays, volunteers handed out food and clothing, and provided company to Milwaukee’s homeless and misfortunate in the Wells Fargo parking lot on 7th and Michigan streets.

The volunteers are part of Street Life Communities, a program that works toward eradicating poverty. The program has about 30 stops around the city, according to founder David Nelson.

Nelson came up with the idea about four years ago. He and other volunteers from a local food pantry wanted to do more, “so we thought why not go out to the streets and see what we can find,” Nelson said. “We met a (homeless) person who asked what we were doing, and we said we have some stuff to give away, and he said, ‘Alright, good enough for me, I’ll find some guys.’”

Nelson currently works for the Medical College of Wisconsin teaching community health improvement. He studied agency counseling at the University of Colorado and adult education at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville, and has put that education to use.

The consistent turnout for Street Life was a surprise to Nelson. “We thought we would do this once or twice, but the people kept coming back, and continued to have need,” he said.

One of the people who Nelson partnered with is Christopher Simenz, a clinical associate professor of exercise science. Simenz said besides basic human needs, disadvantaged people need community. Street Life provides fellowship by having members of the homeless community give out donations and get to know everyone after all of the donations have been distributed.

Officers Gary Bray and Joe Weingart of the Marquette University Police Department Homeless Outreach Team (HOT) have been helping distribute donations for a few years. Weingart said the most important part is giving a human face to the uniform. Both officers stressed the importance of connecting with homeless people.

Bray said it was not easy at first. “As soon as we started the HOT team, I went over there and when I first pulled up all the guests were like, ‘Oh the police are here’ and started moving away,” he said. “Dave Nelson, who runs it, came up to me and said, ‘Officer we have a right to be here’ and I said, ‘I’m here to help.’”

Bray said after a few months of tense reactions, people want to know where the officers have been if they don’t come for a week or two.

Volunteers come from surrounding universities, including UW-Milwaukee, Concordia University and Marquette, to help at locations around the city on their Saturdays.

Sarah Manahan, a junior in the College of Nursing, said friends told her about Street Life Communities.

“I didn’t know it was so close to campus, and it’s just really cool what they’re doing here,” she said. Manahan and Sabrina Geraghty, a sophomore in the College of Business Administration, encouraged other students to come out and help.

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