On a typical night in Milwaukee, around 1,500 people experience homelessness. For many, the Guest House of Milwaukee is a vital resource in enabling the transition out of extraordinarily difficult circumstances into a stable and healthy life.
LoveMKE is an initiative of the MKE Moms Blog focused on social change and making a positive difference in our community. On May 16, our team visited the Guest House to learn firsthand about the organization’s mission and participate in a service project. Our group included several moms from throughout the Milwaukee area, as well as four kids ranging in age from six to ten years old.
It was almost dinnertime as we arrived in the bustling lobby, which meant guests were checking in for the evening; many gave us a friendly wave and smile. The Guest House provides shelter to 86 men each night, with onsite case management, employment skills training, and mental health counseling. The organization depends primarily on volunteers to purchase, prepare and serve nightly dinners as well as weekend breakfasts. Local restaurants such as Wolf Peach also donate specially prepared meals on a regular basis.
Roxy Helmeid, Manager of Volunteers and Communications, greeted us warmly and took us on a tour of the facility. Stopping to point out a colorful mural of men resting together on the ground, she explained that this was a former guest’s depiction of what homelessness looked like to him. The artist, who graduated from the Guest House shelter program in 1986, is slated to return soon to paint a new mural, portraying life after the transition out of homelessness.
Hope—the light at the end of the tunnel—and dignity are central values at the Guest House. Roxy noted that those staying at the shelter are always called “guests” rather than the more impersonal terms of “residents” or “clients.” Staff members also avoid labels such as “homeless,” and are deliberate in the way they use language to show and promote respect for each person as an individual. In the spacious downstairs cafeteria, guests and staff gather once a month to celebrate birthdays, and to give special recognition to individuals graduating from program milestones.
On the upper level of the Guest House, we viewed two dorm areas, each of which houses 36 men. Recently renovated, this level also includes offices for staff and clinicians, and a soundproof conference room for group discussion and therapy. Men entering shelter for the first time start in one of the upper dorms, moving downstairs to a 14-unit, more private dorm on the main level as they successfully complete their program. Seven of the downstairs units are always reserved for veterans in need.
The positive impact of the Guest House extends far beyond its walls. Across the street, the organization’s urban gardening program, Cream City Gardens, offers job training in basic agriculture and donated nearly 5,000 pounds of fresh produce to the community last year. The Guest House also provides supportive permanent housing to nearly 400 individuals and families throughout the Milwaukee area.
For our service project, our group was eager to get to work making lunches, which is an important and easy way for volunteers to make an immediate impact. The Guest House gives out anywhere from 100 to 300 sandwiches daily, both to guests and to anyone in the community who stops by in need.
In less than 20 minutes, our group had prepared close to 125 sandwiches. Roxy smiled and told us we were the fastest group she’d seen in a while. We exited back through the lobby, and guests thanked us for our service.
Yet, as we stepped out into the cool spring night, back to our cars, our commitments and our normal routines, somehow it didn’t seem like we’d done enough.
Volunteers are always needed and greatly appreciated at the Guest House. Click here to learn more about how you can serve.
Join us later this afternoon for a second perspective on our team’s experience at The Guest House. We would love to put together another sandwich-making evening for our team as well as members of our MKE Moms Blog community. Want to join us? Let us know you would like to participate and we’ll let you know when we get it scheduled!