Although her background is in Environmental Science, Taylor Drogemuller chose to accept a full-time role at the Neighborhood House Community Center because she loved its mission and atmosphere. NHCC is one of the state’s oldest community centers and the brainchild of a University of Wisconsin-Madison undergraduate student in 1916.
Drogemuller started as a part-time building supervisor at the center and is now the adult and community program director. She is attempting to incorporate environmental education into the center’s programming for youth, starting with an adult women’s chainsaw class and a gardening project centered around native plants. Her close involvement in the center’s programs has given her insights into the communities they serve.
What do you think is the biggest challenge our community faces?
For Greenbush and the downtown area in particular, I would say housing for sure. I get people reaching out every day who call 211, which is essentially a helpline run by the Salvation Army that directs callers to services around the country. We get a lot of referrals from 211 — people asking for help finding housing every day. Either people just don’t realize how long it’s going to take them to secure housing because there’s such a low inventory, or they moved to Madison thinking they can stay with a friend for a couple of weeks while they’re looking for a job and a place to live, and then they end up not being able to find a place to live and end up at hotels, on the street, in their car or at a shelter. Shelters have been full for quite some time.
There just don’t seem to be the resources to get people housing unless you already are homeless, so it seems like you have to be sleeping on the street before anyone will help you, which is frustrating. There just isn’t a lot of housing available in general for anyone, even if you do have a good income and are looking for a place to live. They go so fast that it’s just really, really challenging to get into an apartment here.
What do you wish people in our community understood better?
I wish they understood that they can make a difference by either donating their time or money, even, to organizations in Madison — not just us, but other organizations that are working to help people.
Also that people who need help shouldn’t feel ashamed having to ask for it. The sooner they reach out and try to stay ahead of it, the more likely they are to be able to avoid getting into a really bad situation where they are sleeping on the streets. That could be as simple as coming to the food pantry if you’re short on cash for the month instead of ruining your credit on a credit card or loan.
What is one change you would make if you could that would make life better for people in our community?
More low-income housing. I think that developers and city planners need to prioritize that over luxury housing. Not only just because it’s the right thing to do, but because I can see things getting really bad in Madison if homelessness does continue. I don’t think that's good for any of us in the community.
What in our community gives you hope?
I’m working with a lot of college students who are volunteers, and I think that Gen Z is going to do great things. They’re much more aware of mental health and other humanitarian issues than generations that have come before them, and they’re really motivated to make changes in their community.