Experience Downtown Blog

“Our fingerprints don’t fade from the lives we touch," says Beth Lappen, Downtown Homeless Outreach Coordinator

May 21, 2020 /   Beth Lappen Milwaukee Downtown

The Heroes Project salutes those who MKE a difference. To engage with our community virtually, we've documented the stories of downtown's frontline heroes, who ultimately inspired our next mural. Titled "The Hero in You," by Milwaukee artist Ken Brown, will transform MacArthur Square this June. For more details, visit www.milwaukeedowntown.com/art. Photography for Milwaukee Downtown by Andrew Feller.

The pandemic has been hard on everyone, but especially for individuals experiencing homelessness. Beth Lappen is the Downtown Homeless Outreach Coordinator with the Milwaukee County Housing Division’s Outreach Services Team. Beth has continued to work hard to protect the people she and her partners in the community serve. What she does every day hasn’t changed, but how she does it has changed considerably. Beth, and all of her community partners, maintain a six-foot distance, wear masks and gloves, take their temperatures daily and do an honest check-in of how they’re feeling. 

Communication has been challenging but masks and distancing add another obstacle to the equation. Beth keeps in mind that facial expressions can’t be read and she has to communicate more things verbally than usual so people know she is listening intently. Individuals experiencing homelessness have no home to “Stay Safer” at; the community has tried to be creative and create new options, but as new cases in the community persist, even those options are running out. Day centers are closed or have limited hours, and shelters have had to stop or limit new referrals to keep the staff and guests healthy and safe.

When Beth can work from home, she does. She and her husband virtually visit friends and family from the comfort of their own home and have been ordering in from many of their favorite small businesses throughout the city. 

Beth believes that “we all have realized a greater appreciation for our health, for each other and for recognizing the real struggles we all have.” She will remember the compassion and small, day-to-day acts of kindness from people all around. These small actions make Beth and her team members stop, smile and feel even better about showing up for those in need in the community.

A phrase that Beth keeps in mind is, “Our fingerprints don’t fade from the lives we touch.” She says that not only does it seem warm and inspiring but it also serves as a warning or a challenge, hurtful words, impatience and unkindness leave a mark, too.

In this time, we should all aim to leave our mark of kindness on the people around us. Through the tough changes around us, Beth and her partners continue to leave positive marks on all of those who they interact with and help.

To support Beth and her team’s work, consider making a donation to Key to Change MKE, which has expanded its outreach by deploying emergency funds in response to the COVID-19 crisis, including purchasing food, cleaning supplies, bus vouchers, clothing and more. Key to Change also helps fund rental application fees and security deposits, move-in kits, and downtown’s homeless outreach coordinator and outreach vehicle. To date, over 1,500 homeless individuals have already been placed into housing through Housing First. To learn more, visit their website here

About the Author: Claire Neville is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and Special Project Intern with Milwaukee Downtown, BID #21, advancing downtown's strategic priorities in the realm of economic development and public space management.  

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