Tim Ryan, [email protected]
What started more than a year ago as a conversation among a small group of people about area homelessness and poverty has blossomed into a full-fledged task force looking to confront those problems head on.
“This is a tough economy for a lot of people,” said Muffy Culhane, president of the board of directors of the Shawano Area Matthew 25 Homeless Task Force. “There are a lot of people struggling and there are a lot of people in the community who can help.”
Culhane proposed adding the Matthew 25 Bible reference to the task force name because of its message of helping others.
“It’s pretty easy to go about our lives and not realize there are people here who are struggling,” she said.
According to statistics compiled by Jay Moynihan, University of Wisconsin-Extension community development resource agent for Shawano County, one in nine people in Shawano County live in poverty. In Menominee County that number is one in four.
Moynihan said it is further estimated there are 198 homeless families living in Shawano, Menominee and northern Waupaca counties.
The numbers were based on school district tracking of homeless students and poverty statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau.
“It’s hard to get exact numbers, for obvious reasons,” Moynihan said.
Dr. Shannon Daun, a family physician at Menominee Tribal Clinic and Shawano Medical Center, does not need statistics to know there is a problem.
“I see homelessness and poverty on a daily basis,” she said.
Daun invited a small group of people to her home in December 2012 to view and discuss a documentary about poverty.
“That was our first conversation,” she said, in what would eventually grow into the task force. Daun is the board’s vice president.
Several area churches quickly became involved, including First Presbyterian, Zion Lutheran, Hope Community Church and Sacred Heart Catholic.
The effort has grown to include civic organizations and local businesses, and there are now more than 50 individuals committed to developing, organizing and expanding the task force’s local response to homelessness and poverty, according to Nancy Schultz, family living educator at the UW-Extension and one of the task force organizers.
One of the first topics of discussion for the group was the question of what is available in the community for the homeless right now.
“There’s not a lot,” Schultz said.
While some may qualify for a voucher for an overnight stay at a motel, the only other options are finding friends or relatives to stay with or somehow getting to a homeless shelter in Green Bay.
Last fall, the group decided to kick its efforts into high gear, forming goals and a mission statement and setting out to secure a legal designation as a nonprofit entity.
“As the task force moves forward they will be taking steps to secure funding to support efforts to end homelessness, hunger, and the other negative impacts of poverty,” Schultz said.
In addition to the number of people already below the poverty level, there are many more who could be pushed there as costs rise for such things as food and propane.
“We have so many people hovering, and if there’s a disaster it can flip them right over,” Schultz said.
The task force has several things it would like to see implemented as soon as possible, including emergency homeless shelters and a free or low-cost clinic.
All of that is still at the wish-list stage, for now, however.
“There’s lots of work to do before we can move anything forward,” Schultz said.
Anyone interested in helping out is welcome.
“Many hands make light work,” Culhane said. “The more people helping, the better off we’ll be.”
AT A GLANCE
WHAT: Shawano Area Matthew 25 Homeless Task Force
WHEN: Group meets monthly. Next meeting is at 5:30 p.m. Feb. 27.
WHERE: Zion Lutheran Church, 1254 S. Union St., Shawano
WHO: If you would like to get involved, call Nancy Schultz at 715-526-6136.
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