It's freezing outside and someone is living in a bus shelter. Help?
March 10, 2017 7:57 AM   Subscribe

There is a homeless man living in a bus shelter (a small 4x4 concrete structure meant to keep people out of the bitter Wisconsin wind). It's still very cold here (Milwaukee), with the real feel this morning being right around 5F. Are there any authorities that I can contact to get this person some help?

I don't want to take away what is possibly the only shelter that he has and I don't want to get him in trouble, so the cops seem like a bad choice. I know that there are shelters in other parts of town, but I've heard hair-raising stories about life in homeless shelters. This shelter is at a very busy intersection near a college campus, and I know that a lot of people wait for the bus there, so I'm surprised (but also not surprised) that no one has intervened. Thoughts?

I felt terrible walking by there this morning and seeing him bundled up and sleeping on a pizza box. I know that I should have stopped and asked him if he needed anything, but I just didn't feel comfortable doing so. I've seen him there a few times, so I don't think that this is a very temporary solution. Thanks.
posted by Fister Roboto to Human Relations (11 answers total)
In theory, Milwaukee follows the Housing First model. It's probably not going to be possible for you to avoid municipal involvement, though; a search doesn't turn up private outreach programs for homeless adults.

Nothing wrong with taking him some of those little hand/foot warmers or an extra blanket on your own, either.
posted by praemunire at 8:07 AM on March 10 [5 favorites]

Dropping off food or a hot coffee, maybe in a travel mug, is never a bad idea. Maybe attach some grocery or fast food gift cards to it. (Obviously, fast food sucks, but people gotta eat). Even if he's not awake and you just leave it with him.

A 4x4 concrete shelter is really odd. You can't stand up in something like that and it isn't wide enough to seat two people. How is that useful to anyone?
posted by cnc at 8:30 AM on March 10 [2 favorites]

Okay, I might have the dimensions wrong. You can stand up in it for sure. My bad!
posted by Fister Roboto at 8:38 AM on March 10

It looks like the best way to get this man help would be to contact the police, as the Milwaukee police department has a Homeless Outreach Team. I know you're worried about contacting the cops, but the outreach team's goal is to connect them to services-- see this memo which outlines how the HOT team operates. This guide has a list of organizations that do street outreach (starting on page 64), although it's unclear if you can contact them directly about a client or if the referral would still need to go through the HOT team.
posted by fox problems at 9:34 AM on March 10 [4 favorites]

Does he have a sleeping bag? If not, it is a cheap item to buy, or you might have one in your attic. Help him with practical stuff first and then you can ask him about why he hasn't applied for assistance. He might have reasons you don't know.
posted by mumimor at 9:47 AM on March 10 [3 favorites]

In my experience living in New York, once the temperatures drop significantly below freezing (usually a cold weather warning or whatever the official term is) they tell people to call 911 if they see someone sleeping outside, because they could die.

So, I would probably do that.
posted by Automocar at 10:18 AM on March 10 [5 favorites]

Complicating matters a bit is that when I was waiting for the bus the other day, I saw someone in the bus shelter using drugs. I'm not sure if this is the same guy, but it's certainly possible. Honestly, jail is warm and at least he'd be fed, but I'm still reluctant to make his life more difficult in the future.
posted by Fister Roboto at 10:43 AM on March 10

Call 211, the social services line, and see what they say.

University cops might be nicer than MPD, who frankly may not even show up. It's gonna be 12 degrees tonight. He really should be inside.

If you're not going to call anyone and don't want to go talk to him, let me know the intersection. I have a sleeping bag I'm not using and can probably spare some other stuff.
posted by AFABulous at 1:30 PM on March 10 [4 favorites]

The MPD has a homeless outreach team who specifically work to give homeless Milwaukeeans warm clothes and other resources without any other intervention - their mission is basically to keep homeless residents as safe as possible (many of the officers have medical training) while avoiding criminalizing the behavior of individuals just because they are homeless. I wish I could have found a better link for getting in touch with the team specifically, but it is a real division of the department so dispatch should theoretically be able to connect you to the right people if you do make the call to contact police.
posted by augustimagination at 2:43 PM on March 10 [2 favorites]

I think the homeless outreach team sounds like a great resource, but don't be surprised if you continue to see him sleeping out there. In my line of work I talk to a lot of homeless people, even though my current location has enough housing to house every homeless person if they chose to take advantage of it, there are still plenty of people who sleep on the streets. The majority of the ones I deal with do it because they don't like having to adhere to the shelter's early curfew, but some of them truly do it because they prefer sleeping on the street.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 5:43 PM on March 10 [1 favorite]

Upon reading your question, I looked up to see if Milwaukee had a Catholic Worker community and found that they do. That's who I would call, because if you're worried about getting him mired into police/social services crap (which he's probably also familiar with), then go with the Dorothy Day followers. These are catholic anarchists who have homes where they host homeless people and have a pretty good understanding, non-judgmental bent. And yeah, gifting the man clean, warm socks and a decent sleeping bag is always nice.
posted by RedEmma at 9:02 AM on March 11

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