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Winter in Wisconsin–A Hard Time to Be Homeless

January 14, 2015


Winter in Wisconsin–A Hard Time to Be Homeless


by Alice Jane-Marie Massa



I remember when and where I first saw a homeless person.  In the summer of 1979, while on a tour of New England, I saw a homeless man midst the busy streets of Boston:  he was sleeping with his head on a bench and his legs over an old suitcase.  Despite my diminishing vision, I was able to hold in my mind a snapshot of this scene in Boston.  Along with other photos in my mind’s eye of The Old Nor Church, Old Ironsides, Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House, the Astor garden, The Breakers (mansion in Newport, Rhode Island), Longfellow’s Wayside Inn, the House of the Seven Gables, and others–I still hold in my mind that picture of the homeless man in Boston.


Having grown up in a small, rural town of only about four hundred residents and having attended a high school in a city of about seven thousand people, I was not really aware of homeless people until much later in life.  When I moved to Milwaukee in 1991, I began to encounter a number of homeless people.  Even though I have always had a guide dog at my side while living in Milwaukee, at times, some homeless individuals have asked me for money.  Recently, someone remarked to me that if he were homeless, he would live in San Diego.  Certainly, homeless people in much colder areas of our nation do have a tremendously harder time during the winter months.  On the coldest nights, police officers and others do try to encourage the persons who are homeless to go to one of the shelters in the city.  Nevertheless, as a result of weather conditions on the last day of 2014, one homeless individual did die in Milwaukee.  When I heard this news, I wondered if I had ever walked by this individual or if I had shaken his hand at mass.


Yes, homeless people do attend mass at the two churches which are nearest to where my guide dog and I live.  During the sign of peace at the end of the mass on December 27, I did shake hands with one of the homeless men who were sitting in front and to the left of where my Leader Dog Zoe and I were sitting.  The man’s hand was very rough and dry.  When my black lab/golden retriever mix and I were standing off to the side of the aisle so that people could return to their seats after communion, one of the homeless men said to me, “God bless you.”  However, didn’t he need the blessings?


Although throughout the mass, I knew that one of the homeless persons was singing boisterously for a few measures and then would lose his breath a little to sing more softly for a while, I was unaware of another happening until the person who accompanied Zoe and me later told me of the circumstance.


A woman, who was probably not too much older than I, was using a walker.  When she returned from communion, she said nothing to me:  she and her companion walked around the back of the church to return to the same pew.  She was the one.  During the sign of peace, when one of the homeless men turned around and offered his hand to her in a sign of peace, she snapped, “No!”  Then, she sharply admonished, “You use our church.”


Being somewhat to the right of this unfortunate monologue, I suppose was better because I doubt I would have been able to say nothing.  The homeless man turned back around to face the altar of the church.


When I heard of the death of the one homeless man, when I heard the below-zero temperatures of last week, when I heard yesterday on the news of a request  for more warm hats and gloves for one of the biggest shelters in the city–I think of that woman’s undignified remarks and the dignified man  who turned away from this uncaring and unkind woman to turn toward the altar.


Undoubtedly, that woman needed to be at church to try to become a better and more tolerant person.  I just wish she had not been sitting where she was on that Sunday between Christmas and New Year’s Day.  This scene during the sign of peace at the end of that mass keeps echoing in my mind.  I continue to dwell on Hebrews 13:2–“Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.”



Peace be with you throughout 2015!

Alice and Zoe


January 14, 2015, Wednesday



From → Uncategorized

  1. I really like this.

  2. Thank you for writing about this situation with great sensitivity and understanding, Alice.
    Peace to you and Zoe throughout 2015,

  3. Another compelling post my dear. God is good and gives us all free will to make decisions upon our own existence. I pray for all the souls that they will take the steps to grasp life and live it to their fullest potential. It’s very easy to get lost between the cracks on this big blue marble. I have seen the cracks first hand and have been blessed to be able to make those decisions that lead me towards a better direction. Those we come in contact with are on a life’s path that can sway to and fro, hopefully towards one more choice that can make a difference in their lives. Thanks for another great entry. dp

    • Deon–Thanks for adding to my blog post your very thoughtful comment. Enjoy your path on this Big Blue Marble! Alice

  4. There are hundreds of homeless people here, where the weather is kinder. Sadly, there are those who must remain in colder climates and suffer even more. Unfortunately, that cold-hearted woman needs more than warmer temperatures could provide. Blessings to all!

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