MILWAUKEE — A group that works with Milwaukee’s homeless worries what this winter will bring with pandemic restrictions still in place at most shelters and much of the emergency help gone.
“Things are looking real different this year, we are scared about what’s going to happen,” said Eva Welch, executive co-director of Street Angels.
All year the non-profit heads out into the night to meet homeless people where they are at, bringing them clothes, food and blankets. Plus, they give them rides to shelters. Welch says the people she helps are not faceless individuals, but many are often going through a hard time in their lives.
“I’ve encountered people I have grown up with. I actually encountered by ex-brother-in-law, my daughter’s uncle one day. That was really hard,” said Welch. “For a majority of us, we are only a paycheck or two away from being in the same situation.”
For much of last year and part of this year, there was a moratorium on evictions. Also, Milwaukee was able to use federal CARES Act funding to get more people into permanent housing and pay for hotels. It even used a residence hall from the Milwaukee Archdiocese for emergency placements during the pandeminc.
With those things in place, Milwaukee says it counted a total of 817 homeless people in shelters and only 17 - a record low - living on the street in January of this year.
But Street Angels says the number of homeless people living on the streets is up substantially. Welch says currently there are 180 people living on the streets, which is higher than it was pre-pandemic, when there were 87 people living on the street.
TOTAL HOMELESS LIVING ON THE STREET
JAN 2020 970 87
JAN 2021 817 17
CURRENTLY NA 180*
(*Street Angels count)
Even before the pandemic hit, Welch says there was not enough space to house the people living on the streets.
“It did come to a point where we were trying to bring people to a warming room. There was no space for them and it was extremely difficult to take them back to their bridge that they were sleeping under, and apologize and give them blankets,” says Welch.
They are already worried about what this winter will bring. The Street Angels are opening up their own warming center on Nov. 1. They are putting tents inside a building so they can help mitigate the spread of COVID-19 while giving people a warm place to sleep.
Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett says the city will try to get hotels for the homeless again this year, as most shelters will still be restricting the number of people it accepts because of COVID-19.
“The Continuum of Care model, working with local hotel operators to make sure we have places for homeless to be and doing everything we can to get them vaccinations,” said Barrett.
The city says it is working with the county on other options. However, they have not given specifics. The Street Angels hope something happens soon before the temperatures drop.
“We are hoping that our emergency overnight warming room is just going to be to catch those that might end up outside or wherever that might be. It is a big hope that the bulk of the people who need help are going to be taken care of by the city and the county,” said Welch.
The Street Angels warning center will be open next month. It can house up to 25 people.