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Homeless shelters under heavy strain, but advocates say needs will be met during winter

Homeless shelters under heavy strain, but advocates say needs will be met during winter

Nov. 8, 2013
 
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Dee Bromwell, of Appleton, gets ready to head out on a job interview Monday as roommate Tony Tyszka of Sheboygan reads a book at the Emergency Shelter of the Fox Valley in Appleton. / Dan Powers/Post-Crescent Media

At a glance

Warming Shelter of the Fox ValleyWhere: 1928 W. College Ave., Appleton (behind the St. Vincent de Paul Thrift Store)
Hours: 5 p.m. to 8 a.m. every day
Contacts: Michael Brodhagen, shelter manager: 920-277-1968; Connie Raether, volunteer coordinator: 920-419-0928; shelter office: 920-832-1479
Email: Client-related matters: warmingshelter@gmail.com; volunteer information: vcfvws@gmail.com
Website: foxvalleywarmingshelter.org
Emergency Shelter of the Fox Valley Where: 400 N. Division St., Appleton
Phone: 920-734-9192
Volunteer information: Beth Servais, volunteer and special events coordinator, 920-882-0346 or bethservais@esfv.org
Website: emergencyshelterfoxvalley.org

By the numbers

7,590: Number of nightly stays from Sept. 15, 2011, through Sept. 15, 2012, at the Fox Valley Warming Shelter.
10,493: Number of nightly stays from Sept. 1, 2012, through the end of this August at the Warming Shelter.
27,003: Number of nightly stays at The Emergency Shelter of the Fox Valley in 2012 (the highest in its 32-year history)
22,400: Number of stays at the Emergency Shelter this year through the end of October.

Video

Watch Chris Lashock, client services coordinator for the Emergency Shelter of the Fox Valley, talk about the homelessness trend in 2013 at postcrescent.com.

More

APPLETON — Falling temperatures have raised concerns for the Fox Valley’s homeless population.

Advocates for the homeless had hoped that after a busy summer, autumn would provide some relief in the demand for space at the Fox Valley Warming Shelter and the Emergency Shelter of the Fox Valley, but that hasn’t happened.

Jerome Martin, executive director of the Appleton-based Emergency Shelter, said the resources are available, but stressed that teamwork is the key to ensuring that their needs are met during the cold, winter months.

“By collaborating, by working together, we’ll be able to ensure that people aren’t living on the streets,” he said. “With six shelters from Oshkosh to Green Bay, we think we’ll be able to find somewhere for someone to go so no one is sleeping in a car in a parking lot in the middle of winter.”

Those who operate the Fox Valley shelters say 2013 has been difficult, with more people in need of a place to stay. With winter approaching, communication has opened among shelters across the region to make sure residents aren’t left out in the cold.

The Emergency Shelter can accommodate 75 residents per night, while the warming shelter has a 50-person capacity.

From Sept. 15, 2011, through Sept. 15, 2012, there were 7,590 nightly stays at the Fox Valley Warming Shelter. That increased to 10,493 stays from Sept. 1, 2012, through the end of this August, according to the Wisconsin Department of Administration.

Chris Lashock, client services coordinator for the Emergency Shelter, said there was one particularly difficult night in July when the facility reached capacity and had a waiting list of 55 people seeking a place to stay — a record turnout.

The Emergency Shelter had the highest number of nightly stays in its 32-year history — 27,003 — in 2012. They’re on pace to match that record this year, having tallied about 22,400 stays through the end of October.

Hope for relief

There’s still hope that the level of demand for homeless services will dip.

Gary Crevier, chairman of the Fox Valley Warming Shelter’s board, said there’s been some cause for optimism in recent weeks. The shelter has regularly been above capacity, but has been near capacity in recent nights without crossing the threshold.

“We’re thinking that normal trend is going to happen, but it’s coming later than it usually does,” he said.

Leaders say a number of factors have led to the increased numbers of homeless. A prominent reason is the Fox Valley’s employment picture.

A number of homeless people are working, but their low-paying and temporary jobs haven’t been sufficient to acquire stable housing.

Warming shelter volunteers pack lunches for those leaving for work. On a recent day, they had to pack 25, Crevier said.

Profiles of homelessness

Martin said there’s no common profile for a homeless individual.

For some, it’s mental illness. Some have chronic, physical health issues. Others simply haven’t been able to maintain stable employment.

A 27-year-old man who is staying at the Emergency Shelter has been coming to terms with his alcohol abuse. He’s participating in a 12-step program and found work with a temporary employment agency. He was laid off, however, and is back to looking for a job.

Still, he’s thankful, describing his state of emotions on a 1 to 10 scale.

“It hasn’t been easy, but it’s better than being at a negative 10,” he said. “Some days, I’m at a two or three, but it’s better than being at a negative 10.”

In search of solutions

Officials say a reversal of trends will take short-term aid and long-term solutions.

Adequate bed space is important, but so is providing the homeless with the tools to maintain a stable home, said John Weyenberg, president of the Fox Cities Housing Coalition.

The coalition, which includes 28 agencies, strives to move the homeless — or those at risk to become homeless — to transitional housing, and eventually, long-term affordable housing.

“It’s a matter of moving people through a system of referral as efficiently as we can,” he said. “If we can move them from one program to the next, hopefully, they aren’t going to need the shelter in the future.”

Martin expects some relief will come with the increase in regional bed space. He said the traditionally high summer shelter numbers could be due to warming shelters in Oshkosh and Green Bay operating only during cold months. Some of those people find their way to shelters in Appleton.

Lashock said they’ll find a way to meet the needs of the homeless if the numbers remain elevated.

“We don’t give up on people,” he said. “This community doesn’t give up on us or any other social services agency.”

— Jim Collar: 920-993-1000, ext. 216, or jcollar@postcrescent.com; on Twitter @JimCollar

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