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:
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.
Messages can be left for any of the board members here
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