About Friends of the State Street Family

Friends of the State Street Family is a true grassroots community initiative to provide care and basic needs to the homeless citizens of Madison. We do this primarily by:

  • Collecting and distributing basic survival gear such as sleeping bags, backpacks, clothing, and hygiene items
  • Collecting and distributing food and water
  • Connecting the homeless population with city and county services and resources when possible
  • Advocating and providing a voice for homeless citizens with city and government officials

Run completely by volunteers and donations, the inspiration for the group came together when organizer Tami Miller was volunteering at St. Mary’s Hospital and encountered a homeless woman who was agitated, dirty, and in the midst of a psychotic episode. Comforting that women left Miller wondering about Madison’s homeless population and what she might do to provide meaningful help. Doing a web search on homelessness in the city, she discovered Inside Voices, a photo essay by Glenn Austin that documented homeless people in a way that demystified and humanized them.

Miller contacted the photographer, which led to additional connections with others working to help city’s homeless and the group took root. The tone of Austin’s photo essay helped determine the course of Friends of the State Street Family, which provides direct contact with and support for people with immediate basic needs in a way that is loving and supporting – as one would treat family.

Initially started as a Facebook group that provided a clearinghouse for resources and information, Friends of the State Street Family has grown to a group of more than 800 volunteers and has become a project of the Center of Community Stewardship, the status of which allows the group to accept financial contributions (link to donate button) through a certified 501(c)3 organization.

We get invited to talk to different people – Churches, Civic Groups, Politicians, Rangers, Police about the reality of homelessness in Madison, because we see what many agencies don’t see- we go out and find folks. They don’t have to come in to us for help. We try to help them understand the shortage of shelter, and that some folks just CANT get in- and that there needs to be some grace or understanding given when that happens and people are found sleeping outside.

The outreach partners and I have dug latrines, cleaned up campsites, set up tents in the dark, bought food for people who haven’t eaten in days, picked up kids out in the woods for a 4 am shift, climbed under almost every bridge and into most every patch of woods, driven around town searching for cars that people are living in, washed and dried muddy and soaked items after a storm, dug people out of their cars when they have been “plowed in” in a big snowstorm, and jerry-rigged things together to make the summer camping tents somewhat warmer to sleep in in winter…

The other thing our group does is feed people- faithfully, consistently for over two years at the top of State Street every Saturday at 3pm. Rain, sleet or snow- we go out and feed people outside because they are outside… we are there for THEM. I figure if we average about 75 people a Saturday over 112 weeks (sometimes we have had as many as 150)- our group has provided- conservatively- 8,400 meals since we started.

We have also started a few spin-off groups- The “State Street Angels” area a group of volunteers who are homeless and FSSF volunteers together working to help the community at large, and make Madison a better place. The “Little Free-Range Library”- offering used books to take and exchange, keep or return to those who are homeless (so they don’t have to worry about ruining a library book by exposing it to the elements outside that they sleep in). I have also been contacted by groups in Texas, New Jersey and California to ask how we got started, and what we do for money and supplies- what worked and what didn’t – as they read about us on Facebook and wanted to do something similar.

Channel 27 Honors us with a Jefferson Award


 United Way gives us Volunteer of the Year Award

Outreach line:

(608) 535-9394
Messages can be left for any of the board members here
E-mail: fssfhomelessoutreach@gmail.com

Board of Directors:
Tami Miller- Chair and Director of Operations

Levi Sable- Vice Chair and Outreach Coordinator

Wendy Doerflinger- Treasurer and Director of Donations

Dar Zo- Secretary and Food Run Captian

Teri Coats- Captian, Downtown Outreach Teams

Jessie Coppernoll- Food Run Coordinator

Jim Doerflinger- Director of Outreach

Cal Fleming- Outreach Teams, Donations, Food Run Captain

Connie Geier- Food Run Captian, Co-Chair Donations, Midnight Run Co-Captain

Ed Kuharski- Advocacy and Advisory


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What Outreach Means


As the Operations Director I think I need to explain what I mean when I say we are doing Outreach- For the Friends of the State Street Family- It is not simply a band-aid that keeps people alive who are not able to be in the shelters…giving tents, sleeping bags and other essential items to folks sleeping outside.

Outreach also means- connecting people with existing services and doing so much more. When a person is homeless simple things, often become 10 times as difficult.

Like when we help them to get a job, it involves:

  1. Taking people for haircuts, get a shower, helping them get an appropriate outfit.
  2. Typing a resume for a job interview and spending a day with them taking them to different places that are hiring to fill out applications. Sometimes it means being a reference or helping them practice interview so they have some confidence.
  3. Then it’s getting them a bus pass so they can get to work until they get their first paycheck. Buying them the appropriate shoes for the job. Helping them get a free phone so they can answer calls from employers. Also, helping them get into shelter or a regular shower and clean work clothes- (this is not so easy if they are sleeping outside) so they don’t get sent home or lose their job because they aren’t presentable.

But that’s not all we do-

  1. It can be helping someone fill out financial aid forms and applications for colleges, driving them to appointments on campus to get in, helping them think through how to write an application essay question…paying the filing fee… and when they do get in- getting them school supplies, encouraging them and helping them remember how to do homework again, write an essay, outline a chapter.
  2. Go to court with a victim and helping him or her stand up for themselves- letting them know someone is in their corner.
  3. Helping them replace lost or stolen ID’s or important papers that can be the holdup for a food stamp card or some other necessary service.
  4. Go with them to meetings with a caseworker or counselor because they may be intimidated or worried about the possible result.
  5. It can also be visiting someone in jail, or at the Huber Center—or picking them up when they are released to help them get the things they need to re-establish themselves.
  6. Delivering needed supplies and funneling donations to other homeless support agencies and groups all over the area- like the downtown night outreach groups, Bethel Lutheran Day Center, Occupy, Briarpatch and Porchlight’s Men’s Shelter, Community Action Coalition, Project Babies, Santas without Chimneys, and The River Food Pantry.
  7. Calling on our friends in 12-step groups and getting them to come out with us, and take a person to detox when they ask for help and are ready to take that step.
  8. It can be connecting a rape victim with the Rape Crisis Center, or if they won’t do that-at the very least- sitting there and holding her hand while she tells someone who cares what happened.