Someone torched one of the Street Angels buses last night and it is a total loss.
We have two buses – the white one is larger and the blue one, relatively undamaged, is smaller. Both of them were out last night, driving routes in Milwaukee to places where people, known to be homeless, would be found.
It was in the single digits last night – really cold, even for Milwaukee – so the volunteers on the bus were busy handing out gloves and blankets and hot meals. This is what Street Angels does – summer, winter, spring, fall – it’s a year-round thing – give people what they need to survive. The urgency in the winter though can frighten even the hardiest volunteer. What situation will you find that you will not be able to fix? What person will you lay awake thinking about after your shift is done?
Even in the worst situations, the bus rolling up is a sign of hope. It says to a homeless friend – you’re important enough for us to come find you to make sure you eat and can stay warm tonight. That is powerful stuff right there.
Last night when I got word that the bus was on fire, I started right away to pull on my jeans although there was no reason for me to drive across town. I had nothing to contribute, no skill, no insight, but I knew I had to go to see this terrible thing myself.
Witness. That’s all it was. Be a witness. Maybe, in a weird way, thank the white bus for thousands of miles driven and hundreds of friends helped. Tell our devoted agency directors that I was sorry that this happened. Just witness. Show up.
I took these pictures. The white you see is foam that the fire department used to put out the fire. The burned-out parts of the bus are where rolled up socks and sweatpants and hoodies were stored. There were flashlight batteries that burned and toothpaste and razors and shoes with the size noted on the heel with masking tape. I know because I labeled some of them myself.
There was just a tremendous amount of heart on that bus.
We will get a new bus. It will take time. These buses are not easy to find and retrofit. And they are expensive. Hopefully, insurance will cover most of what is needed but we are accepting donations to cover what we expect will be a shortfall between what this bus was worth and what a replacement bus will cost.
Meanwhile, alternative strategies are being put into place – going back to the trunks of cars which is how Street Angels started seven years ago. In a lot of ways, the vehicle isn’t as important as what is done with the vehicle. Witness. Show up.
It’s simple and powerful and we’ll keep at it.