Milwaukee, WI – When Natalie Barnes got behind the wheel of her bus on a recent chilly Saturday evening, she had no idea that by the end of the night she was going to help change a man’s life; but that’s exactly what happened when she provided food to a homeless man and connected him with a place to live.
“Natalie’s kindness, compassion and respect for this man in need are what MCTS Excellence is all about,” said County Executive Chris Abele. “Across Milwaukee County, employees are focusing on empowering people and strengthening community, and we are investing resources throughout the County to reduce homelessness. Natalie demonstrated what we all need to do to fight homelessness: to look out for each other, to care for each other and to work together. I’m deeply grateful for Natalie’s actions.”
Natalie was driving the GoldLine on October 13, 2018, when Richard, a rider she has met before, got on her bus in Downtown Milwaukee. Richard rode until the end of the line at Brookfield Square Mall, during Natalie’s break the two started talking. As they chatted, Richard said he had been homeless for the past week because the home where he was staying had been condemned. Richard asked if he could ride along for the night to stay out of the cold. Natalie said “Yes.”
“At some point in our lives, everybody needs help,” Natalie said. “I wanted to do what I could to help Richard in some way.”
As Natalie drove east picking up and dropping riders off, Richard sat silently on the bus. At Natalie’s layover at UWM she offered to get Richard something to eat.
“Now I don’t know what to say but to say thank you,” Richard said to Natalie in a touching moment that was caught on the bus surveillance video. Richard said he would pay Natalie back, but she refused.
“I want to help you,” Natalie told him.
Natalie was so moved by Richard’s situation she contacted a friend at Community Advocates to see what sort of help they could provide. Community Advocates was able to get Richard into a temporary shelter and they have been working with him to find permanent housing.
“We were happy to welcome Richard at Autumn West Safe Haven,” said Community Advocates CEO Andi Elliott. “Annually, our safe haven provides temporary housing and supportive services to more than 50 individuals who have experienced homelessness and want to transition into their own place to live. Autumn West Safe Haven is a lifesaver for men and women like Richard who need a safe space and support so they can put down roots and live independently.”
Helping others while on the job is not new to Natalie. She often brings extra peanut butter and jelly sandwiches when she is driving to give to riders who need something to eat. The mother of three has been driving for MCTS for two years. This is her third commendation for outstanding service.
About MCTS Excellence
MCTS Excellence was started in 2017 as a way to highlight big and small act of kindness by MCTS employees. Each year MCTS employees receive hundreds of commendations. MCTS management is proud of the great work of employees and every employee receives a formal letter of recognition for each commendation.
About Autumn West Safe Haven
Autumn West Safe Haven is a low-barrier housing refuge for individuals who are currently homeless and experiencing severe and persistent mental health challenges. This program is an alternative to emergency shelter and designed to provide safe, short-term housing along with supportive services for residents as they transition out of homelessness. Autumn West embraces Housing First and Harm Reduction principles. Of the 52 individuals served by the Autumn West Safe Haven in 2017, 85% were safely and stably housed at Autumn West or moved on to permanent housing by the end of the year.