Twice each year, Milwaukee's Albright UMC hosts some very special visitors. These are the last Wednesdays of January and July when the national “Point in Time You Count Homeless Count and Survey” takes place to do just as its name suggests: Map the locations of the city's homeless, and learn why they are on the street, how long they've been homeless, and what can be done to return them to a more ‘conventional’ lifestyle. As you can imagine, not an easy task with a population frequently preyed upon by the less savory elements of society; a closed community who lives in what may appear to us to be a "shadow world" in the alleys and under the bridges where most don't even see them. Fortunately, some DO see them.

On these two nights each year, vans and squads go out in search of the homeless communities and ‘nests.’ Volunteers offer blankets, hygiene kits, resources that they may need, and a ride to a safe, warm (or, in the case of July, cool) place to sleep for the night without worry for their safety, or the safety of their meager belongings. This is the third year that Milwaukee's Albright UMC has served as one of these safe places of rest.

In the past, there have been four locations for adults (one for women and children only, one for men, and two for families), and one strictly reserved for runaway homeless youth. This July, however, brought some changes. One of our largest centers decided not to participate, leaving Albright as the only center accepting families. This wouldn't have been much of a concern since the weather has been exceptional for every Point In Time we've hosted so far, and most had chosen not to spend the night. On July 26, 2017, however, rain was the plan for the night, so we knew our cots would be occupied.

Technically, Point in Time runs from 7 PM Wednesday to 7 AM Thursday morning, but that's only the event itself. After months of coordinating services, hours before the actual event begins, the set-up of the sleeping area with cots and blankets, the survey area, an area for food, and accepting and arranging deliveries of blankets, hygiene kits, food and paperwork need to be done. Then comes getting the volunteers settled into their positions. As ‘guests’ arrive, they need to be sent to the specialists who can assist them the most, fed, and sent off to get some badly needed sleep. Volunteers include housing specialists, Veterans Affairs representatives, county outreach personnel, and spiritual and emotional care workers. After everything is cleaned up and returned to normal at 7 AM, paperwork needs to be transported to the central office so that the ‘bean counters’ can do their magic, and get the figures in to the federal and county agencies who can bring about the needed funding.

Not one bit of this is complaining, though. Even after all the hours, we keep coming back each time to do it again. The first woman in the door could not eat or drink, and we thought it had been from the heat and humidity. We were right. After checking on her all night, and keeping her supplied with ice, she was able to do both by morning, and that's what it's all about. Doing the most good we can for the least of God's people. That was the payoff. Seeing her walk away in far better condition than when she came in. "Doing unto others." – by Lynne Hines-Levy