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Homeless outreach workers scrambling to get everyone a safe place to stay in this bitterly cold weather

Posted at 6:21 PM, Feb 05, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-05 23:15:20-05

MILWAUKEE  — In this dangerously frigid weather, people are working to make sure some of the most vulnerable in our community are not left out in the cold.

“We’re doing whatever we can to save lives,” said Eva Welch, the Executive Co-Director of Street Angles Milwaukee Outreach. “We’ll go find them and do whatever we can.”

Welch has a van full of supplies, and just brought one more person to safety.

“We got a call that there was a woman sleeping outside of a church,” Welch said. “We were able to go there, and get her to trust us enough to get in a car with us, and take her to one of the city-funded hotels.”

At least 180 people with nowhere else to go are currently staying in rooms at three different hotels in the area.

The City of Milwaukee pays for the rooms through CARES Act funding - provided because homeless shelters have to operate at such reduced capacities to fight the spread of COVID-19.

Welch says more hotel rooms are needed though. She is dropping off clothes and snacks to some people staying at the hotels.

Volunteers like her, along with ten homeless outreach workers with Milwaukee County's Housing Division, will be traversing the county to reach people still out in this cold.

“If they're not willing to come to the shelter, we're making sure we're leaving them with hand warmers, hats, gloves, extra jackets, and zero-degree sleeping bags," Welch says.

St. Benedict the Moor is opening an emergency shelter every night through this weekend. But because of COVID-19 protocol, it can only take in 12 people.

Usually in this case, St. Benedict would open its meal hall to keep dozens of people warm every night. But that space has no ventilation system, so they can't use it in this pandemic.

Guest House of Milwaukee is also stepping up to take in 12 extra people every night, while Repairers of the Breach is adding space for up to 40.

"We have to open the second and the third floor in order to get our capacity which means more heat, more staff, more money, but a better chance of making sure no one freezes," said Pastor James West, Executive Director at Repairers of the Breach.

Pastor James West, Executive Director at Repairers of the Breach, said lately they have averaged 17-21 people per night but with the impending subzero weather they are prepared to meet capacity.

"Don’t let pride, don’t let embarrassment, or whatever you’re going through cause you to stay outside in this temperature. This is not the temperature you want to play with. You come on inside. Let us save your life and we’ll take it one day at a time," West said.

“Most shelters are only open 7 p.m. to 7 a.m., so we’re left with what do you do at 7 a.m. for the rest of the day?” Welch said. “Before COVID-19, there were so many things that would be open like libraries. In this kind of weather, libraries and other community centers would typically open as daytime warming rooms, but they’re closed right now. But we’re talking zero-degree temperatures by 8 a.m.”

Here's something all of us can do - if you see someone homeless in this cold, call Street Angels Milwaukee Outreach at 414-369-3688. Leave a message telling them the location of where you saw someone, and they will go try and make contact with that person and get them to safety.

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