The following was crafted by Central District day patrol officer Phil Yahnke. Thanks to Phil for his submission and, more importantly, for the work that he and the other officers (including several listed in the below article) do on a daily basis helping those in our community who are most in need!
It's easy to feel overwhelmed at times by the extent of the homeless problem in Madison. This is especially true if you ride patrol uptown. It can also be discouraging to learn there is a belief in certain circles that the City of Madison is "waging war on the homeless", with police as the 'spear-point' in targeting our less fortunate citizens.
That's why I find it heartening to see individual Central District officers doing what they can to address the problem and seek out solutions, providing resources and assistance to individuals in need. Mental Health Officer (MHO) Andy Naylor's unglamorous but vital work with the mentally ill (psychiatric disorders and homelessness often go hand in hand) is but one example. Neighborhood Officer (NPO) Jessica Sosaka made the rounds of State Street on a brutally cold mid-December day to ask homeless men for their shoe sizes, because she'd found a downtown business owner willing to buy them winter boots. Police Officers Cindy Theisenhusen and Tammi Droessler tracked down a downtown resident--we'll call him Will--not to arrest Will but to cajole him into seeking medical attention for an infection he had let slide too long. Cindy also went above and beyond by driving Will out to the Social Security offices on Odana Rd (with her sergeant's approval of course) to get his paperwork in order so he could apply for housing at the new Porchlight facility on Theirer Road. Police Officer Ken Brown and I wrote glowing recommendations for another individual, 'DS', whose activities and behaviors downtown were generating many calls for service; the purpose of the recommendation was to get him an apartment and provide stability in his life, to break the cycle that was creating the behaviors and generating the police contact.
You don't even have to be a cop to do your part; you can be a cop's wife. My wife Kari recently became friends with Kimmie Jones, the Porchlight staffer responsible for Theirer Road (both volunteer for Key to Happiness, a non-profit that rescues dogs and puppies from shelters in East Texas and Louisiana and literally trucks them north to be placed in "forever homes"). One night Kimmie expressed frustration at her inability to procure such mundane household items as coat hangers and toilet paper for the men moving into her apartments. Kari has since assembled three carloads of used clothing, used furniture, dishes and cookware, even a secondhand barbecue grill, and recruited me to haul them over to Theirer on my days off. The sight of Will and DS emptying my wife's SUV was a true YouTube moment. If Will is wearing an old pair of uniform trousers the next time you see him, they were probably mine at one time.
It's a given that finding a long-term, comprehensive solution to homelessness is somewhat above our pay grade as police officers. But every human connection we're able to make with the homeless, every homeless person we succeed in getting off the street and into a safe, stable residential environment represents a small victory. Seeing a once-homeless man's face light up when I handed him a fistful of coat hangers served to remind me of the power we as individuals have to make a positive impact.