A Responsibility to Hold

“Where can I get Marquette basketball tickets? I really want to see that guy Markus Howard play,” Tim, a patron of Project Homeless Connect, asks me at the event.

All morning I had been directing Tim through the AMU, which was transformed into a hub of resources and services for people experiencing or at risk of experiencing homelessness. I had helped him check off his to-do list, including a haircut and apartment consultation until this last request. 

I am unable to fulfill it.

I notice the sense of pride that Tim holds for Marquette University is held by other patrons as well, which constantly reminds me that Marquette has a home in Milwaukee. The harsher flip-side of this reminder is that Marquette does not reciprocate that welcome.

Marquette must acknowledge and fight social inequities, specifically poverty, in Milwaukee not because it is in Jesuit nature to do so, but because it is integral in identifying as part of embracing Milwaukee as part of Marquette. 

In the years 2017 and 2018, the city of Milwaukee’s poverty rate was above 25%, with a low estimation of 871 people experiencing homelessness, according to the Milwaukee Rescue Mission, a Christian organization offering several programs including temporary housing for citizens experiencing homelessness.

The city’s efforts to combat homelessness has been extremely ambitious, such as The Milwaukee Continuum of Care’s unsuccessful 10-year plan to eradicate homelessness by 2020. The fulfillment of this goal is very unlikely, considering the amount of people experiencing homelessness in Milwaukee dropped only by about 600 people between 2010 and 2018, according to its reports.

In order to fulfill goals that are this extreme, such as United Way’s recently announced plan to end family homelessness by 2025, they must be supported by able organizations and institutions, namely Marquette.

I believe Marquette should prioritize supporting United Way’s plan to end family homelessness by providing finances and resources. In the past, Milwaukee has turned to Marquette to help combat homelessness. In 2018, Alderman Bob Donovan of the 8th district urged Marquette to open the former Ramada City Center Hotel as a shelter, purchased by the university in 2018 instead of tearing it down. Marquette says the university was “not in the position” to take on this project.

Regardless of whether Marquette should or should not have complied with Donovan’s request, this incident demonstrates that the university itself cannot be relied upon to “do its part” in the fight against poverty in Milwaukee– it is up to the students.

As a student body, we define Marquette culture and principle. While administrative decisions are powerful, our student-faculty ratio of 14:1 proves that we have potential as a student body to redefine the university’s role in the Milwaukee community.

A perfect example of this potential being exercised is student-run organizations like Midnight Run, MARDI GRAS and the 414 Fellows. MARDI GRAS and Midnight Run focus on addressing the needs of Milwaukeeans living in poverty, Midnight Run on a weekly basis and MARDI GRAS on a yearly basis. The 414 Fellows is an AmeriCorps program offered through Marquette in partnership with Next Door, an organization that works towards the educational success of Milwaukee youth.

While joining these organizations is a great start to addressing and challenging social inequities in Milwaukee, independently following their example in various projects and organizations will multiply the impact.

In addition to finding organizations that directly help the Milwaukee community, students and faculty need to support local businesses. The narrative about northern Milwaukee specifically is oftentimes reduced to facts and statistics, specifically applicable to the 53206 zip code: it’s known for containing the poorest neighborhoods in Milkwaukee , two-thirds of children live in poverty and there is a 12 year difference in life expectancy between 53206 and 53217.

Still, knowing these facts and failing to acknowledge the sense of community in 53206 and surrounding areas only further isolates the community and the socio-economic issues that exist within it. Supporting local businesses is a great way to economically support the Milwaukee community while simultaneously embracing what our city has to offer.

There are numerous locally owned businesses that Marquette students can support just by showing up and dining. Go to the south side’s new Zócalo food park (and try my personal favorite Ruby’s Bagels), or choose from dozens of vendors at the north side’s Sherman Phoenix, and you’ll see how many options of local, affordable and delicious cuisine can be in a single space in Milwaukee.

Marquette community members should support local businesses because it promotes economic prosperity in northern and southern Milwaukee neighborhoods. I urge students and faculty to make an effort to support these businesses as individual consumers as well as any organizations they take part in. Ditch the Papa Johns for your club meetings, invest in small businesses! It is just as important to invest our allegiance into businesses in our central city communities as we invest our volunteer hours.

Volunteering in organizations that aim to combat poverty and being mindful to which communities and business students invest in is not going to end poverty, homelessness, or the risk of homelessness among Milwaukeeans. However, these steps are integral in moving towards that direction, and they are a powerful way for students to work to better our city, even if Marquette administration is not directly involved.