MILWAUKEE — The Street Angels in Milwaukee said that it has closed down its warming center for the rest of the winter due to a spike in COVID cases.
The organization made the statement on Monday via Facebook. It said that there had been a "20-30%" increase in positive COVID tests among guests and staff.
"After many meetings this week and listening to the City of Milwaukee Health Department about the extreme rates of transmission and infection of Omicron, we've decided it is not safe to continue operations, even after reducing capacity. The risk is too high for our unvaccinated guests for serious illness."
Street Angels is adding extra emphasis on outreach now that the warming center is closed. Those placed in the hotel program will still be given assistance as well.
Wisconsin experienced record high COVID cases last week. For four days in a row a new single-day record was broken.
Street Angels' Executive Co-Director, Eva Welch, explained the difficult decision in depth in a statement to TMJ4 News on Tuesday:
"Making the choice to close the warming room was extremely difficult for us. It came down to the point where we had no staff to keep the doors open, some of us were working 20plus hour days and we tried our absolute best. We worked with the health department and lead of infectious disease control and we tried to make the space as safe as we possibly could, but to no avail, covid was striking guests, volunteers and staff on a daily basis. Our goal was to give people a safe space and sadly, at the rate Covid is being transmitted right now, a congregate setting without proper ventilation is not safe for anyone. Pardon my French but, we were damned if we do, and damned if we don't.
The warming room was open for a consecutive 60 days and for most of this winter we were the only emergency winter warming room open (Nov 1st-Jan 9th 7 nights/wk). The warming room was being operated on our own resources with no government financial assistance. We did not have the proper spacing, ventilation, funding, or staff coverage to operate during a pandemic that is spreading so volatilely.
During our 60 days of operating, we seen 100 unique individuals come through the warming room. Of these 100 people, 7 were sent safely home via Greyhound bus, 44 were connected to city programs such as emergency hotel programs and shelters, 1,109 sleep safe nights were provided and when we had to close our doors, the 9 people who were staying with us were advocated for and connected to 211 for them to hopefully make arrangements for our guests.
Currently, we are still running our street outreach program and will be going out tonight to deliver basic survival needs to those who are still outside. We will also continue to advocate for folks to get them into the shelter system. There is so much more work that still needs to be done outside of those 4 walls that must continue. We are currently still seeing dozens of people on the streets each night (even when we had the warming room open) and we are getting multiple calls a day from new people in need of assistance. There are people still living outdoors during this brutal weather despite our efforts to host a warming room for 20 people. That is where the real story is 🙁"