Mike Henry’s Story
I have seen extreme sadness and defeat. I have also seen the most beautiful things in people that have nothing. What we do is try and assist people in need. Twice a week, I take a team of volunteers and go out onto the streets of the city of Eau Claire and help people with assistance to help them survive. I believe that every human being has a right to have access to a bathroom, have drinkable water, have a place to sleep, and not find harassment where they abide.
I came from the city of Chicago where the type of work I do has a very high burn out rate. In Chicago there are approximately 24,000 sex workers with ¼th of them living on the street. These people are on the streets working like they are because they have dependencies. These dependencies are anything from a heroin addiction to their families they must support. I worked in this area of 6 years. One of my friends that I know told me to come to Eau Claire to take a break from the craziness of Chicago and once I got here, I just never left.
Being in Eau Claire as long as I have, I know that many systems are broken such as the jails. A lot of people in poverty end up going to jail, and I know that it can be a very privatized system. In jail, it costs $5 to see a nurse. If you need medication, that is another $5. For instance, if you have an issue that causes you to need Tylenol it is another $0.50. I know that it does not seem like a whole lot of money but if you have nothing, it adds up fairly quickly.
Not only is that happening on the inside, but some of the laws/ordinances of Eau Claire are based on a very broken system as well. If we lived in LaCrosse, as long as people that are homeless did not do anything that was against the law, they are left alone. Many of them live by the river. Here in Eau Claire, people that are homeless that may be subjected to negative weather cannot camp out in one place in the city over night or even for a long period during the day. They must carry all their belongings to another location every so often. Those who are families with children have the option to get into the Beacon House, but keep in mind, 700+ families were turned away just this year because they can only host up to 6 families at a time.
This is a huge problem. I think that spreading awareness about this issue would be the most beneficial to the public. A lot of people are unaware of what happens right in front of their eyes. We, as a community, need to open our hearts and be willing to lend support to our homeless population. More than that, we need to be willing to genuinely hear their stories.
As told to Dannelle M. and Brianna H.
This story originally appeared in Behind the Faces of Criminal Justice in the Chippewa Valley, a publication of The Facing Project that was organized by the University of Wisconsin–Eau Claire in Eau Claire, Wisconsin.