This winter has been especially challenging in Milwaukee if you were homeless.
But the city’s social agencies went all out to provide shelter, especially during the first three weeks of February when temperatures hit dangerous lows, and snow piled up as deep as 22 inches in some areas.
On top of that, the coronavirus pandemic limited what these agencies could do.
Due to the pandemic, for example, Milwaukee had to close five of its eight warming rooms — spaces reserved to help homeless people stay warm — leaving only three open and at reduced capacity.
Because this could have left people facing homelessness to endure freezing temperatures, IMPACT 2-1-1, which coordinates social services in the city, and its partnering agencies increased efforts to house those living on the streets.
“For the past year, the Milwaukee Continuum of Care has become laser-focused on assessing, problem solving and connecting those experiencing homelessness with immediate resources,” said Vickie Boneck, the marketing and communications director for IMPACT 2-1-1. Continuum of Care is a coalition responsible for planning, organizing and evaluating services for homeless individuals and families.
“The challenge was assuring capacity to anyone who wanted to be indoors,” said Emily Kenney, the coordinated entry program director at IMPACT 2-1-1. “So, we had to do better assessments so that those who needed it the most got spots.”
Boneck said funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency has made it possible for IMPACT’s coordinated entry team, which works on the front lines providing services to those in need, to give clients more options for preventing homelessness. Some of these options, such as rent assistance and placement in permanent housing, paired with offering temporary housing when needed, have resulted in fewer people in need of emergency warming rooms.
Despite these efforts, though, there are still people sleeping on the streets.
Shelly Sarasin, the co-executive director of Street Angels, a nonprofit that helps feed, shelter and advocate for those facing homelessness, said her group’s street outreach team still serves an average of 30 to 35 people a night who are sleeping outside or in their cars.
Sarasin said Street Angels aided those people by providing them with blankets, sleeping bags and hand and foot warmers, and by making sure those sleeping in their cars had gas to get them through the nights.
“I wouldn’t say people were sleeping outside due to a lack of space,” she said. “It was moreso because of mental illness and fear of COVID and [of] congregating in [confined] spaces.”
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