“We have absolutely no idea why someone would want to do something like that,” says Eva Welch, one of the executive co-directors of Street Angels, Inc., an organization that helps Milwaukee’s homeless population.
On Thursday night, Welch got a terrible message – one of their buses, used for outreach, was set on fire. A gas can was found at the scene of the arson in their parking lot near their headquarters on Layton Boulevard. It’s an ongoing investigation, with no identified suspects.
“They are used to reach our neighbors without homes,” says Eva Welch, of Street Angel’s buses, one of which was completely destroyed, the other suffering what appears to be just cosmetic damage. “The buses are typically stocked with supplies people would need to survive outdoors and to integrate into society such as clothing, basic hygiene items, blankets, tents, cold weather gear. We go out every Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday. We always bring out a hot meal for the moment and a bag lunch for later and a bottle of water for everyone we see.”
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In addition to the short term goals of getting people food and supplies, Welch says longer term goals include “to create trust, a bond with people and try to lead them to the resources that can get them off the street.” Street Angels has been around for six or seven years, Welch says, and in that time they’ve assisted almost 400 people in moving from the street into permanent housing.
“We also do a lot of advocacy both on a personal level for individuals and at a policy level as well,” Welch says. The motivation for the arson is unknown and Welch says that rather than focusing on the negative, she’s choosing to look at the “overwhelming response” from the community. Thousands of dollars in donations came in over the weekend, but Welch also appreciates the emotional and mental support.
“The community has been rallying around us and keeping us uplifted,” Welch says. The Street Angels Sunday night outreach went ahead as planned, with supplies loaded into a minivan and another volunteer’s car. The second Street Angels bus – parked right next to the burnt one, will be taken into the shop tomorrow to assess if the damage is deeper than chipped and cracked paint, melted window frames and lights. If it’s drivable, it’ll be back out tomorrow night. If not, a caravan of volunteer minivans will replace it.
“We’re 100 percent community funded and supported, majority volunteer run,” Welch says. “That bus was bought by the community for the community, so it’s touching to see people come together and say, ‘no, we’re not going to stop.’”
You can find more information on Street Angels and their programs on their website. You can make a donation to them here. Anyone with information on the arson is encouraged to call Crime Stoppers at 414-224-TIPS.