Today's guest blog was authored by Lt Dan Olivas
"Are you really just here to help people?" The police officer paused in their conversation with the front desk clerk and turned to the woman who had just walked in the front door of the motel. "We sure are," responded the officer. The officer noticed the woman carrying some food items that were just purchased - none needed cooking and all would need to be replaced soon. "How are things going?" asked the police officer. As her eyes brimmed with tears, the woman relayed her story of financial struggle - how she came to be living day-to-day in a hotel; fearful of what would happen; wondering how she would raise her disabled son in that setting; how she would get him to school; what school he could go to; and what kinds of services he could get. The officer smiled and told the woman he knew just the person to talk to. The woman was introduced to a school social worker just down the hall, who met with her, answered her questions and assisted in making arrangements for the upcoming school year.
The original mission was to reach out to a couple of prostitutes to offer services. In the process team members thought they might also find a human trafficking victim or two. However, no one imagined finding so many children, so many families in desperate need of support and services, all living in the small rooms of an east side motel.
In Madison, the homeless who sleep in front of city hall are often the focus of media attention, but the plight of those quietly and permanently residing inside a motel – a place where travelers typically spend but a day or two – is not widely on the public radar.
Knocking on the motel room doors were police officers – the men and women Chief Koval likes to call "Guardians" and the "Guardians" were not alone. They had come with social service and school representatives.
Partnering with community members and heading out to motels is not new. The Madison Police Department has partnered with Project Respect for many years fighting human trafficking, while helping prostitutes find paths to better lives.
The team has worked with prostitutes, but they soon discovered many needing help were not victims of human trafficking, nor were they caught up in the sex for sale industry. They were families, sometimes with as many as five children packed into small rooms.
Mothers and fathers told of hard times, job loss, and desperation. They spoke of living on the very edge of homelessness, a few dollars away from not being able to pay for one more night in the hotel. Many had not registered their sons and daughters for school, even though the start of classes was a week away.
A Madison Metropolitan School District social worker, who specializes in supporting homeless children, got out a laptop and changed that by registering between 20 to 25 students. The youngest children were given important placement with Head Start.
Community Policing Team Officers gifted children with 40 backpacks filled with school supplies, and "dignity" bags filled with toiletries, all thanks to community donations. Parents voiced tremendous gratitude, and were very receptive to talking about future needs, including housing. Aside from the donations, what families voiced most was how much it meant that they were thought of. Someone, somewhere, cared about their situation.
They very much want a better place to raise families, and the team realized the accomplishments of the morning were just a start.
The challenge the team came away with: How can they, how can this community continue to help those whose voices have somehow become lost behind the doors of a Madison motel?
There have so far been three operations of this nature. The most recent took place on August 27, 2015 and focused on assisting with school registration and providing school supplies. In addition to Madison Police Department personnel, many service providers were present, including:
Social Workers from the Transition Education Program
Neighborhood Intervention Program
Nehemiah-Center for Urban Leadership Development
Early Head Start
5 Stones (a non-profit agency to raise awareness of human trafficking)
The next operation is scheduled for late August, 2016. The Madison Police Department will be assisting Project Respect in accepting donations, please see below for details:
Donation Drop off at the VFW
133 E. Lakeside St, Madison
12 – 3pm
Project Respect and the Madison Police Department are accepting backpacks, school supplies, new and gently used children's and adult clothing, and toiletries. Monetary donations should be made out to "Project Respect."
*Alternative drop off at North PD (2033 Londonderry Dr) and East PD (809 S. Thompson Dr) from Monday, August 8th through Friday, August 12th from 8:00am to 4:00pm.