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Street Angels Milwaukee Outreach continues its routes, even after bus arson

Staff and volunteers from Street Angels Milwaukee Outreach pose in front of the buses before the fire.
Eva Welch
Street Angels Milwaukee Outreach
Staff and volunteers from Street Angel Outreach pose in front of the buses before the fire.

Street Angels Milwaukee Outreach serves the community and those who are unhoused.

For them, Jan. 20, 2022, was like any other night as employees and volunteers distributed food, supplies and other resources. At the end of the night, they parked their buses and went home for the night, but hours later, messages started flooding in that the buses were on fire.

Eva Welch is one of the co-executive directors for Street Angels Milwaukee Outreach. "[The buses] were parked sometime between eight and nine o'clock. By 10:30 p.m., we were receiving Facebook messages to our Street Angels page saying that the buses were on fire and somebody actually sent us a video," says Welch.

Luckily, Welch says the fire was contained to mainly one bus. The other bus they have did get some damages, but it's still drivable is getting making its rounds.

In the short term, the buses are used to alleviate immediate suffering of unhoused people and those in the community by offering tents, bag lunches and hand warmers to those in need.

Long term, the buses are used to build relationships with people on a deeper basis and connect them to other resources to help them get off the street.

Since the fires, Street Angels Milwaukee Outreach has received an outpour of support.

"We're 100% community funded, we don't receive any type of large public funding. To know that the community wants us to keep going and trust us to keep going speaks volumes in itself," says Welch.

For now, Street Angels is continuing its two routes, but one is in a minivan. Welch acknowledges it has changed the way the group operates. Her team now has to go out in the cold for every stop as they are in the minivan, whereas before, they did not have to get off the bus. Additionally, there are safety concerns as well.

"It won't slow us down. We have an amazing team of volunteers that are willing to do what it takes including using their personal cars. That's how we started and that's how we need to finish," says Welch.

Street Angels began in the winter of 2015-2016 and at first, there was a group who got together to get a warming room up and running.

Recently, the Street Angels warming room closed due to COVID-19 concerns, no proper ventilation in the warming room, understaffing, and other public-funded spaces becoming available. However, the group focuses on bringing dinners and other necessities to those in need out on the street.

There are a lot of different aspects of motivation that keeps Street Angels going, but it comes down to the community they built and the people they serve.

"The community bought that bus and the community allows us to do what we do," says Welch. "The way the community supports us to keep going, Milwaukee is just a really amazing place and in itself can be motivating. I've been here my whole life and knowing that there's so much good here is very motivating."

Mallory Cheng was a Lake Effect producer from 2021 to 2023.
Kobe Brown was WUWM's fifth Eric Von fellow.
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