Emergency warming shelters struggle to find space during pandemic

NOW: Emergency warming shelters struggle to find space during pandemic

MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- With temperatures falling, homeless and warming shelters will be filling up.

But with the pandemic, space is even more limited than usual. Not only is the need higher right now, with more people struggling, but trying to shelter people in a warm place without spreading the virus is a difficult task.

Repairers of the Breach opened emergency warming shelter Wednesday night, Dec. 23, something they’ve done for countless winters.

“This emergency warming room has saved lives for a long time, and we don’t intend to stop now,” said Reverend James W. West, Jr., executive director of Repairers of the Breach.

While helping the homeless on a cold night is nothing new, doing it in a pandemic is.  They’ve had to change everything to keep from spreading the virus, and the biggest challenge is space.

“This living room area alone would hold 55 people, and due to social distancing we’re down to 17 in this room,” said West.

That’s happening at shelters all over Milwaukee.  The Milwaukee Rescue Mission had to cut their capacity in half.  The Guest House of Milwaukee saw capacity fall as well.

But shelters know they can’t simply close to people who have nowhere else to go.

“We have to make this setup work,” said West. “We’re prepared to go to the second and maybe even third floor for space.”

Keeping people apart isn’t the only problem. West says the need for shelters is only going up, and they’re not just seeing adults at their door.

“We’re now serving, at the door, we’re serving families,” said West. “Even children, and so we’ve seen the need rise,” he said.

West says they’ve been lucky with a mild winter so far, but he knows that won’t last.

“It’s people’s lives on the line and we have to just step up our game and conform to whatever’s going on,” he said.

The Repairers of the Breach warming shelter will be open any night the temperatures drop below 20 degrees.

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