20 Below, Not Giving Up
At this point in the night the wind chills were hovering around negative 20 degrees. We arrive to one of the camps and walk below the bridge and begin to call out "Street Angels, Hola". We expected no one to be there but I heard a faint reply that I could not understand. I had no flashlight so didn't feel comfortable going all the way under. I yelled out that I would be right back and I went back to the street and got Shelly and her phone to light my way.
We walked across the street to the other side of the bridge and when we came to the entrance I once again yelled out "Street Angels" and this time there was an answer loud and clear and it sounded like he yelled out "Help!" I went into almost a panic and charged right into the darkness saying "Where are you" There are so many sleeping spots I was not sure where he was.
I found him in a tent with a tattered zipper and ripped "doors", he was laying under a mountain of blankets. It was a friend we have known for a few years, he is older and uses a walker to get around. He also speaks very little English so Shelly used her phone to translate to him, "It is going to be negative 60 in the morning, you can die if you stay out here"
At first it seemed he was willing to go but we were concerned we may not be able to help him up to the street so we called 911. The ambulance came first and we explained the situation and took him to his tent. We began to use google translator again and tried to convince him to go with us. The fire department came next, and, well, I must say I was a little disappointed in their lack of concern and effort to get him to a safe warm place. The firefighter was at his tent for 30 seconds and asked the EMT's what was going on. The EMT told him he was refusing shelter. The firefighter said, "Well, he does not want to go, the beautiful thing about America is he has that freedom of choice." I had no words, but somehow uttered out loud "OMFG" and then walked quickly out the other side of the bridge and tears began streaming, 'how could they give up on him so easily' I thought?
Well, we did not give up that easy! We called 911 again and asked to have a Spanish speaking MPD officer respond to the camp. Soon, 4 MPD officers pulled up and we explained what was going on. At one point I even asked them to arrest him as he was a danger to himself out there :/
We led the Officers down the hill and under the bridge to our friends tent. The Officer who spoke Spanish took the lead and began telling our friend about the warming rooms and that they would feed him and he could stay all day tomorrow. I had no idea what they were saying but when they giggled, I giggled, and, every now and then I threw in a "Por Favor Amigo" I could tell the Officer was being gentle and trying to convince our friend that this would be a good thing for him!
After a good 20 to 30 minutes of back and forth conversation, the Officer looked at me with a smile and gave me a thumbs up, tears once again began to stream down my face.
When we emerged from under the bridge there was a whole village waiting to take him into some place warm and make sure he was cared for. Members from our team, the Street Life team, Feeding His Flock and even some new faces we have yet to meet.
Myself and a gentleman I have not met walked with our friend arm and arm up the hill, through the snowbank and down the street where a nice warm vehicle was waiting for him. After he was sitting in the car I leaned in and thanked him for going, he hugged me, kissed me on my cheek and gave me a smile that I will never forget. Language is never a barrier when it comes to brotherly love <3
We collectively felt accomplished! There were hugs exchanged among the Officers and the outreach teams and some of us cried and all of us felt a huge weight lifted off our shoulders, we knew, more than likely this man's life was just saved. Even the 5 guys on the bus that were waiting to get to the warming room did not mind the hour delay in order to save a life.
Thank you Milwaukee Police Department - District 6 for being so empathetic and patient and diligent and simply amazing!!
We gave the officers huge hugs and thanked them over and over, that was all we had to offer in that moment. But, I will be calling tomorrow to praise the way they protected and served tonight! I am beyond impressed and so grateful! I dont know that I would have been able to leave the camp if they did not get him to go.
Sadly, this was not the only call to 911 we had to make tonight in order to convince people to seek shelter. So many community members in the city have really stepped up during this brutal cold snap and I can only pray no one is left out in these deadly elements!!
Until tomorrow night Milwaukee, sweet dreams! Stay safe, warm and indoors! <3
Street Angels Milwaukee Outreach