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COVID-19 surge and dangerous temperatures continues to challenge Milwaukee homeless shelters

"The need is too great and the weather is just too cold. It's deadly."
Posted at 10:14 PM, Jan 05, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-07 09:39:43-05

MILWAUKEE — Shelters in Milwaukee are facing extraordinary challenges with the Covid-19 surge and dangerous temperatures.

The Street Angels shelter is inside the Ascension Lutheran Church building near Layton Boulevard and Greenfield Avenue. Co-director Shelly Sarasin says it has 17 openings.

Each person will be assigned a tent to sleep and eat in. They take a rapid Covid-19 test at the door, and they are handed a Kn95 mask to wear at all times.

"We're trying even harder now to stop the spread, because we know we can't afford to close down again," Sarasin said. "The need is too great and the weather is just too cold. It's deadly."

Last month, she says Street Angels had to shut down for 10 days because too many staff members tested positive or were exposed to Covid-19.

On Tuesday, Repairers of the Breach posted on Facebook its emergency warming room is temporarily closed because of staffing issues.

A spokesperson for the City of Milwaukee told TMJ4 News there are more than 850 people experiencing homelessness on any given day in the Milwaukee area, and up to 125 can be sleeping outside during the winter.

Outreach workers with the city and other groups go out searching to bring these people to safety.

In addition to shelters, the city says it is using 170 hotel rooms across four hotels to help address homelessness and Covid-19 isolation.

"People will freeze tonight and possibly die. They can come in our warming room and catch Covid if we're not safe about it, but we are trying our hardest to do everything we can to save lives," Sarasin said. "It's been the most difficult thing we've ever been faced with in helping the homeless."

Capuchin Community Services oversees St. Ben's Community Meal and House of Peace. Brother Robert Wotypka, OFM CAP., says 12 people can stay the night in its shelter.

Due to the omicron surge, he says the meal program is back to takeaway only.

"We are changing out the air in this space every seven minutes, we have the cots safely spaced, we ask the guests—and they do—cooperate by wearing masks," Wotypka said.

He added every weekday afternoon, city outreach workers come to the shelter to meet with people who need help finding better housing.

The city says Greater New Birth Church on the far north side will be open Jan.17 as an overnight shelter.

If you need help, call 211.

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