211 center helping people in extreme cold find shelter, emergency help

With sub-zero temperatures in southeast Wisconsin, the local 211 operation center is busy taking calls from people who need somewhere warm to go.

Impact 211 operates 24/7, giving people in nine southeast Wisconsin counties a place to call when they need help.

Typically, the center handles a lot of calls relating to substance abuse issues, but one of the supervisors says with temperatures dropping, they are also handling a high volume of people facing cold-related emergencies.

"Impact 211 is kind of a central point of contact," said William Ward, a contact center supervisor. "Right now there are not only the normal shelters but there are also warming rooms that are open where we can get someone in just for the night just to make sure they’re safe they’re out of the cold."

But these employees can also help someone whose heat isn't working at home.

"Usually we help them check off basic problems that could be causing it," Ward said. "We help them come up with a plan right away to make sure they’re safe until help arrives then we see if we can refer them to someone who can help them with their furnace problem."

There is no cost to the caller and the center is mainly funded by United Way, in addition to county funding and other donations.

"When people call us and they’re in that situation, they’re pretty scared, they’re feeling overwhelmed," Ward said. "When we can get them help, they’re absolutely very grateful."

According to Wisconsin Emergency Management, frostbite can happen on exposed skin in less than 30 minutes and symptoms include loss of feeling and a white or pale appearance on fingers, toes, ear tips and the tip of the nose.

Hypothermia symptoms include shivering, exhaustion, confusion, slurred speech and memory loss.

If going outside for any reason, the Milwaukee County Health Department recommends to wear appropriate clothing and cover exposed skin. Also keep a cold weather emergency kit in your car with blankets, food and first aid.

"Anyone who is having trouble with a heat-related situation and they need help, it's a great idea to call 211 and we can try to help them come up with a plan," Ward said.

Click here for a list of shelters and warming centers open during the bitter cold.

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