Madison, Chicago and homelessness

On Saturday, I drove down to a Chicago suburb to participate in the ordination of a former staff member to the Ministry of Word and Sacrament in the Presbyterian Church USA. At the reception following the service, I had a conversation with a member of that congregation about Madison (he was a UW alum). As we were talking, he mentioned homelessness. I was somewhat surprised that our conversation took that turn.

A couple of hours later, I was sitting at a dinner table in the same suburb, visiting with friends of the newly ordained as well as members of her congregation. Again, the topic of homelessness came up. More specifically, they asked me about the connection between Chicago and Madison.

On Monday, I put it together. Pat Schneider wrote about the Chicago Tribune’s coverage of the Chicago family who had come to Madison to find a new life and the efforts of our community, from the Mayor on down, to help them out. Much of the story is behind the Tribune’s paywall, but there is free video available.

I suppose it’s possible to decry, as many in Madison do, those who come to Madison seeking help or a new life. On the other hand, ours is a nation of immigrants, built by people who came here seeking new lives and new opportunities. There has also always been internal migration, as people moved from settled places to the frontier, or moved from the South to the North, seeking jobs in the Great Migration of the 20th century, or those millions who move South or West, for retirement or to seek new opportunities.

We welcome certain kinds of migration, or the migration of certain kinds of people–like my wife and I who moved here from South Carolina–, or all those young people who move here for college or graduate school, or to seek their fortune with Epic or some other firm.

If nice, white, well-educated people move here, we shouldn’t be surprised that working class, or African-Americans, or Hispanics come here as well, seeking new lives or new opportunities. They may only be able to work at minimum-wage jobs, but perhaps their children will get college degrees and realize whatever is left of the American Dream in the 21st Century.

The homes they left, whether in the violent neighborhoods of Chicago or in Latin America, were desperate places that offered little hope for the future. Madison may not be the place where everyone can achieve their dreams but all of us ought to do our part to make those dreams real.

This particular family’s saga is being played out in the pages of the newspaper. They have attracted the attention of the city and even the mayor. Apparently, someone has come forward to help them find housing at least for a few months. Perhaps that will give them time and space to figure other parts of their lives out. How many stories like this one remain untold? How many other homeless people, homeless families are living on the streets or in their cars, having come here to start over?

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